Connecticut could become the first US state to allow police to use drones equipped with deadly weapons if a bill opposed by civil libertarians becomes law. The bill, which was approved overwhelmingly by the state legislature’s judiciary committee on Wednesday, would ban so-called weaponized drones in the state but exempts police and other agencies involved in law enforcement, the AP reported. The legislation was introduced as a complete ban on weaponized drones but just before the committee vote it was amended to exclude police from the restriction. Connecticut Governor Dannel Malloy, a Democrat, was reviewing the proposal, “however in previous years he has not supported this concept,” spokesman Chris Collibee wrote in an email.
“Obviously this is for very limited circumstances,” said Republican state Sen. John Kissel, of Enfield, co-chairman of the Judiciary Committee that approved the measure Wednesday and sent it to the House of Representatives. “We can certainly envision some incident on some campus or someplace where someone is a rogue shooter or someone was kidnapped and you try to blow out a tire.”
The bill now goes to the House of Representatives for consideration. Details on how law enforcement could use drones with weapons would be spelled out in new rules to be developed by the state Police Officer Standards and Training Council. Officers also would have to receive training before being allowed to use drones with weapons.
North Dakota is the only state that allows police to use weaponized drones, but limits the use to “less lethal” weapons, including stun guns, rubber bullets and tear gas.
Currently five states – Nevada, North Carolina, Oregon, Vermont and Wisconsin – prohibit anyone from using a weaponized drone, while Maine and Virginia ban police from using armed drones, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures. Several other states have restricted drone use in general. So far, 36 states have enacted laws restricting drones and an additional four states have adopted drone limits, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures.
Meanwhile, concerns are growing about potential unchecked police brutality and death raining from the robotic skies: civil libertarians and civil rights activists are lobbying to restore the bill to its original language before the full House vote Reuters adds.
“Data shows police force is disproportionately used on minority communities, and we believe that armed drones would be used in urban centers and on minority communities,” said David McGuire, executive director of the American Civil Liberties Union in Connecticut. “We would be setting a dangerous precedent,” McGuire added. “It is really concerning and outrageous that that’s being considered in our state legislature. Lethal force raises this to a level of real heightened concern.”
“That’s not the kind of precedent we want to set here,” McGuire said of the prospect that Connecticut would become the first state to allow police to use lethally armed drones.
Others echoed McGuire’s concerns: “We have huge concerns that they would use this new technology to abuse our communities,” said Scot X. Esdaile, president of state chapter of the NAACP. Esdaile said he has received calls from around the country from NAACP officials and others concerned about the Connecticut legislation.
Three police departments in the state – Hartford, Plainfield and Woodbury – began using drones within the past year, according to the American Civil Liberties Union of Connecticut.
For now, however, the proposal is unlikely to unleash scenes out of some Robocop spinoff: The bill includes restrictions on drone use and reporting requirements that are supported by the ACLU.
It would require police to get a warrant before using a drone, unless there are emergency circumstances or the person who is the subject of the drone use gives permission. It also would require police to report yearly on how often they use drones and why, and create new crimes and penalties for criminal use of drones, including voyeurism.
Furthermore, final passage is not assured: although the bill overwhelmingly passed the Judiciary Committee, several members said they just wanted to see the proposal get to the House floor for debate. They said they had concerns about police using deadly force with drones. If Connecticut’s Democratic-controlled House passes the bill it will move to the Senate, which is split evenly between Democrats and Republicans.
“I think that police are taught one thing,” said Democratic Bridgeport Sen. Edwin Gomes. “You put a weapon in their hand, they shoot center mass, they shoot to kill. If it’s going to be used, you’re going to use it to kill somebody.”
Finally, for those wondering how a drone could possibly shoot, the following video of a drone shooting a gun – appropriately enough in Connecticut – should answer that question.