Wait, Can North Dakota Police Really Use Weaponized Drones Now?

Like that one Facebook friend’s relationship status, it’s complicated.

North Dakota has become the first state to legally allow law enforcement to “to fly drones armed with everything from Tasers to tear gas”, the Daily Beast disturbingly reports.

And yeah, that’s true—drone-owning police departments could, through a very selective reading of North Dakota House Bill 1328, elect to arm their flying robots with non-deadly munitions. The key statement in the bill says state law enforcement agencies “may not authorize the use of, including granting a permit to use, an unmanned aerial vehicle armed with any lethal weapons.”

“The bill’s stated intent,” writes the Beast’s Justin Glawe, “was to require police to obtain a search warrant from a judge in order to use a drone to search for criminal evidence.” But according to Glawe, a “pro-police lobbyist” prompted an edit that allowed future use of non-lethally equipped drones. So as long as the drone isn’t sporting a handgun, it might be okay.

A writer for a magazine focused on Unmanned Aerial Systems (UAS) takes issue with that interpretation of how things might shake out for surly crowds of North Dakotans who run afoul of pepper-spraying quadcopters. UAS Magazine‘s Patrick Miller contacted Alan Frazier, a deputy in the Grand Forks Sheriff’s Department mentioned several times by the Daily Beast. Frazier, unhappy with the Beast piece, told Miller the Grand Forks Sheriff’s Department is “the only non-federal agency operating UAS in North Dakota.”

Then Frazier pointed out Grand Forks Sheriff department policy on drone use, which states that “Deployment of any type of projectile, chemical agent, or electrical current weapon from a GFSD UAS is PROHIBITED.”

So at the moment, there don’t appear to be any crowd control drones ready to rain tear gas, Mace or Taser darts on any marauding mobs in Grand Forks, North Dakota.

But nothing in the law says North Dakota peace officers can’t take such measures, if they feel they need to. Since ammo makers are already selling shells designed to take drones down, things could get heated, if it comes to that.

Photos by Bakó Gábor/Wikipedia.org