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Cops in North Dakota Are Now Allowed to Arm Their Drones

A new bill bans only lethal weapons from being placed on the flying machines.

by Scott Masters Pierce
Aug 26 2015, 10:50pm

Image via Flickr, Lima Pix

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A bill in North Dakota originally meant to restrict the use of weaponized police drones is allowing law enforcement to arm them with rubber bullets, Tasers, and tear gas.

The Daily Beast reports that the bill—which was signed into law in April—didn't initially allow drones to carry any weapons at all. In fact, it imposes a requirement that cops get warrants before using them. But Bruce Burkett, a lobbyist from the North Dakota's Peace Officer's Association, successfully pushed for an amendment that only banned deadly weapons.

"In my opinion there should be a nice, red line," Representer Rick Becker, who wrote the original draft of the bill, said in March. "Drones should not be weaponized. Period."

Although the law technically requires transparency—the police must report when, why, and for how long they unleash armed drones and keep that data for five years after it's collected—the Grand Forks County Sheriff's Department's numbers don't line up with those of the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA), which is supposed to be told whenever a drone is deployed.

According to records obtained by MuckRock, the feds say 401 drone operations occurred in the state between 2012 and 2014. But Bob Rost and Al Frazier, the Sheriff and Sheriff's deputy in charge of piloting the drones, only reported 21 missions.

Law enforcement officials who support drones—and initially opposed the bill restricting their use—said the flying machines aren't being used for criminal investigations. But given the massive discrepancy between the feds' numbers and their own, it's awfully hard for the public to feel confident about that.