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Should Drones Have Been Used to Find Christopher Dorner?

That's assuming the former LA cop and Navy reservist actually met a fiery end. If he didn't, why not release the drone hounds now?
February 13, 2013, 6:00pm

Reports are still very, very sketchy, but it looks like Christopher Dorner maybe--maybe--met a fiery end after evading (and killing) authorities and generally terrorizing southern California for the better part of the past week.

Authorities are saying they haven't yet identified bodily remains in the burned-out San Bernardino cabin believed to have been taken over by Dorner, who'd recently laid out in a sprawling Facebook manifesto his plans of carrying out asymmetrical warfare on the LAPD. And as it turns out, previous reports that authorities were deploying unmanned drones to track down the dismissed LA cop and Navy reservist haven't held up, with officials quickly dismissing claims that they'd released the drone hounds, so to speak.


Dorner definitely wouldn't have been the first American hunted by drone on US soil if in fact law enforcement decided to move ahead with launching what advocates hold as cheap and effective tools for handling dull, dirty or dangerous tasks, but for all we know drones were not used to locate the guy. But here's a thought: Should they have been?

The argument is simple enough--and in a moment of bizarre standoffs and intensified hand wringing over robotized "mission creep," decidely human. It goes like this: Why on Earth should bodies be put in harm's way when robots are seemingly capable, in hostile scenarios like Dorner's mountain standoff, of providing the sort of initial scouting that can reliably inform officials as to whether they should storm a compound, or not.

Dorner allegedly shot two police officers during yesterday's standoff. One of those officers died. Would that life have been spared if an aerial drone's imagers made it very clear to authorities to stay the hell away from the cabin for at least the time being? I don't bloody know. It's impossible to say. But even that staunchest anti-droners and drone critics are likely hardpressed here to rebuff the line that sometimes recon drones just make sense because fuck people dying when they don't have to.

Authorities in Alabama recently used a drone to end a standoff with man who'd barricaded himself and a small boy in an explosive-rigged bunker after the man killed a bus driver. Cops eventualy killed the man. The boy has been reunited with family (via)

"Had a [drone] been able to be used in that environment," Peter Bale, chairman of the board of the international drone lobby better known as the Association for Unmanned Systems International, tells US News, "who knows what could have happened."

Who knows, is right. But if another recent standoff where drones were deployed is any indicator, maybe the death toll in the still-puzzling Dorner tragedy indeed could've been lower if drones had taken the scene. After a 65-year-old man and a 6-year-old hostage in Alabama had been holed up in an explosive-rigged bunker for a few days after the man killed a bus driver, authorities launched a small glider spy drone to figure out their next move. Based off what they could gather from the drone, authorities moved in when they felt the moment was right. And who wound up dying? Just the asshole creep, who the cops shot. The boy has since been reunited with his family.

I'm not saying we should draw trends or drop too many What If's in the wake of these unfortunate situations--at least not yet. And I certainly understand why some folks argue the other way in saying that it's a slippery slope to the full-on, proverbial surveillance state should more and more emergency drones go into service by 2015, when the Federal Aviation Administration must make good on its promise of integrating all drones into domestic airspace. But is the full brunt of that pushback aiming at the right target? Bale, the AUVSI chairman, adds that intense criticism from privacy advocates has ground the widespreaad adoption of civil drones to a halt, with the FAA being pulled into "uncharted territory."

A strange thing is happening. Not only have wartime's drones been dragged into the spotlight over the past few weeks; civil drones are inching toward the limelight now, too, forcing us to ask, Who, or what, should we be putting on the line? If Dorner's dead, there's another drone for another time. If he isn't, and is still rampaging through tracts of wilderness, why not start now?

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Reach Brian at @thebanderson