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Connecticut cops could be first in U.S. to get weaponized drones

Connecticut cops could soon have a new crime-fighter in their arsenal: weaponized drones.

State lawmakers are considering a bill that would allow police agencies to have drones outfitted with deadly weapons or tear gas, but civil rights advocates are worried that this could take policing into dangerous, uncharted territory.

The measure easily passed Connecticut’s Judiciary Committee on Wednesday and was sent to the House for approval. Republican state Sen. John Kissel, co-chair of the Judiciary Committee, said he anticipated weaponized drones would be used in “very limited circumstances,” such as a school shooting situation or a kidnapping.

Kissel also suggested that weaponized drones could be used to shoot and puncture the tires on a suspect’s car, the Associated Press reported. The bill was introduced in January as a measure to improve privacy regulations around drone use, but lawmakers amended the legislation to allow police to use weaponized drones. The ACLU’s Connecticut chapter called the move “outrageous,” “dangerous,” and “unnecessary.”

Even without adding weaponized drones to the mix, Connecticut has had its share of trust issues between police and members of the public. State prosecutors or police have been accused in the past of attempting to cover up instances of police misconduct or brutality by withholding video footage. Last October, footage emerged of a Hartford police officer stomping on the head of a handcuffed Latino man — an incident that had occurred months earlier. Earlier this year, the ACLU of Connecticut released a report showing how police agencies “routinely make it difficult” for residents to file complaints of misconduct, and sometimes “refuse to accept anonymous complaints” and “include threats of prosecution in their complaint intake protocols.”

If approved by the House and signed by Democratic Gov. Dannel Malloy, Connecticut would be the only state in the country whose police have drones outfitted with lethal weapons. South Dakota cops have drones, but they are outfitted with “less-lethal” weapons, like Tasers.

Weaponizing drones for police agencies is a relatively new development, but law enforcement have for several years regularly relied on drones for conducting search and-rescue missions and documenting crime scenes.