National Public Radio’s The Two-Way blog reports that North Dakota police forces are about to get the nation’s first weaponized drones, following passage of a bill allowing them earlier this year. Ironically, this is coming about in spite of the legislation’s main sponsor, Republican state Rep. Rick Becker. While the law limits the type of weapons permitted to those in the “less than lethal” category—tear-gas, rubber bullets, beanbags, pepper spray and Tasers—the original bill would have entirely barred weapons from police drones. According to The Daily Beast, Becker told a hearing in March: “In my opinion there should be a nice, red line: Drones should not be weaponized. Period.” The original intent of his bill was to require police to obtain a search warrant before using a drone to gather evidence, as well as prohibiting weapons from drones. But to get the provision requiring search warrants passed, Becker had to drop the provision barring weapons.
The surveillance issue primarily concerns police efforts against the methamphetamine plague. Meth use in the state is rising dramatically, according to a report last month in the Bismark Tribune. Several states are now moving toward using drones for surveillance in drug enforcement.
But the weaponized drones come just in time for police actions against the Native American protesters opposing an oil pipeline through their lands. The protests have been going on for a month now, and Indian Country Today reported Sept. 8 that Gov. Jack Dalrymple has just called up the National Guard. Let’s hope drones won’t be used as well.