By Jeff Stone
Police in North Dakota are now authorized to deploy drones armed with Tasers, tear gas and other weapons after the passage of House Bill 1328. The bill was originally intended to limit police surveillance powers, but according to a new report North Dakota’s police lobby blocked restrictions on the type of equipment law enforcement can include on unmanned aerial vehicles.
HB 1328 was initially meant to limit police drone powers. A draft of the bill banned all weapons on law enforcement drones, and required them to obtain a warrant before deploying an unmanned aerial vehicle in a search for criminal evidence. That was until the state house committee allowed Bruce Burkett of North Dakota’s Peace Officer’s Association, a police lobby group, to amene HB 1328 so it limited the weapons ban so that “less than lethal” weapons are still allowed, according to an extensive report in the Daily Beast.
“This is one I’m not in full agreement with. I wish it was any weapon,” Rep. Rick Becker, the Republican sponsor of the original bill, said at a March hearing as quoted by the Daily Beast. “In my opinion, there should be a nice, red line: Drones should not be weaponized. Period.”
Under the revised version of the bill, which was signed into law by North Dakota Governor Jack Dalrymple in April, allows police to affix department UAVs with bean bags, pepper spray, sound cannons, rubber bullets and other subduing weapons that have raised so many concerns about police militarization of late. The final version of the law also includes extensive reporting requirements meant to force police transparency on how frequently and in what situations they use UAVs.
Whether police are actually using these airborne weapons is another matter. The police community fought against HB 1328, saying they shouldn’t be forced to obtain a warrant before using a drone as part of an investigation. But Grand Forks County Sherriff Bob Rost told the Daily Beast that, even if his department was unhappy with that, their UAVs are still only equipped with cameras.
“It was a bad bill to start with,” he told the Daily Beast. “We just thought the whole thing was ridiculous.”