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Nov 03 2011

Drones the Latest in Law Enforcement Militarization

The militarization of law enforcement continues at an alarming pace. The latest development is the use of unmanned aerial vehicles by police in Houston. And it could even be armed. But don’t worry, they promise to use their new toy only for good:

A Houston area law enforcement agency is prepared to launch an unmanned drone that could someday carry weapons, Local 2 Investigates reported Friday.

The Montgomery County Sheriff’s Office in Conroe paid $300,000 in federal homeland security grant money and Friday it received the ShadowHawk unmanned helicopter made by Vanguard Defense Industries of Spring.

A laptop computer is used to control the 50-pound unmanned chopper, and a game-like console is used to aim and zoom a powerful camera and infrared heat-seeking device mounted on the front.

“To be in on the ground floor of this is pretty exciting for us here in Montgomery County,” Sheriff Tommy Gage said.
He said the Unmanned Aerial Vehicle (UAV) could be used in hunting criminals who are running from police or assessing a scene where SWAT team officers are facing an active shooter.

Gage said it will also be deployed for criminal investigations such as drug shipments.

“We’re not going to use it to be invading somebody’s privacy. It’ll be used for situations we have with criminals,” Gage said.

It will no doubt be useful in legitimate criminal investigations. But it will also almost certainly be abused. Like SWAT teams with their armored vehicles and automatic weapons, when the police have this kind of advanced toy they have to use it in order to justify having it. That’s why we see SWAT teams being used all the time to serve warrants for non-violent crimes.

Here’s one way I can almost guarantee it will be used: The infrared scanner will likely be used to look for grow lamps in homes that can be used to grow marijuana. The Supreme Court has ruled that the police can’t use such scanners without a warrant, but that hasn’t stopped police agencies from doing so anyway. There was one famous case in Texas where a former cop rented a house, put nothing in it but grow lamps and a small Christmas tree — and cameras in each room. In less than 24 hours, the police came crashing into the place with weapons drawn.

Here’s how this works. The police illegally use infrared cameras to spot the grow lamps and presume they’re being used to grow marijuana. But because of the Supreme Court ruling, they can’t use that evidence to get a warrant. So they grab one of their favorite informants, give them money or plant drugs on them so they can use that as leverage and get them to sign an affidavit saying they bought drugs at that house. Then they use the affidavit to get a warrant. Welcome to the police state.

Here’s the video of that case in Texas:

13 comments

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  1. 1
    Alareth

    Why is having a drone for aerial observation any worse than using a manned helicopter?

    A manned helicopter could be armed as well.

    The only difference is the drone is cheaper and safer to operate.

  2. 2
    Abby Normal

    Give cops sirens and flashing lights on their cars and sometimes they’ll use them to get through intersections when there’s no emergency. Give them guns and sometimes they’ll pull them in a snowball fight. Give them pepper spray and sometimes they’ll spray lawful protestors. Give them tasers and sometimes they’ll shock grannies or pregnant women. Tear gas, hand cuffs, GPS trackers, even a simple toilet plunger, all can and have been abused by police.

    It seems to me the issue isn’t so much that a piece of equipment has the potential to be abused, it’s that police are largely unpoliced. Their conduct is too often hidden from independent evaluation and, even when misconduct is found, it is too often unpunished.

  3. 3
    Michael Heath

    “We’re not going to use it to be invading somebody’s privacy. It’ll be used for situations we have with criminals,” Gage said.

    What IQ level is required to immediately realize how dishonest this statement is the very first time this drone is used?

  4. 4
    carolw

    Big Brother is watching, and he’s armed. Scary shit.

  5. 5
    djfav

    Conroe? Really? That little bump in the road needs a drone? Ridiculous.

  6. 6
    Bronze Dog

    It seems to me the issue isn’t so much that a piece of equipment has the potential to be abused, it’s that police are largely unpoliced. Their conduct is too often hidden from independent evaluation and, even when misconduct is found, it is too often unpunished.

    The issue of using a thing to justify having it is one psychological element, but I think this is the foundational issue. Cops are immune to punishment, so they have no incentive to do their job properly. It encourages neglect, abuse, and corruption. Giving them a new toy makes a bad situation worse.

  7. 7
    Dennis N

    Why am I left thinking of the ED-209? Were these drones possibly made by Omni Consumer Products?

  8. 8
    Aquaria

    Here’s one way I can almost guarantee it will be used: The infrared scanner will likely be used to look for grow lamps in homes that can be used to grow marijuana.

    I bet it will also be sensitive to skin color in places like Texas and Mississippi, and maybe for non-hick accents as well.

  9. 9
    Modusoperandi

    To be fair, Ed, at least they got the right house.

  10. 10
    Francisco Bacopa

    I’m not surprised it’s Montgomery County. Looks from the article that Houston’s drone program has been suspended. I’ll keep my eyes open though.

    I use CFL security lights to grow aquatic plants. I have been very careful to leave the vertical blinds open a bit to let the police have a good look at my grow tanks. I am almost certain they’ve had a peek and marked me as not a suspect.

  11. 11
    Doug Little

    I use CFL security lights to grow aquatic plants. I have been very careful to leave the vertical blinds open a bit to let the police have a good look at my grow tanks. I am almost certain they’ve had a peek and marked me as not a suspect.

    So what your saying is if indeed you were growing something else you could use this as cover.

  12. 12
    LightningRose

    Sheeeeit! An unmanned helicopter in a state that practically requires it’s residents to be armed?

    Some police equipment is just needin’ to be shot at!

  13. 13
    uzza

    To spend $300,000 for a new toy, that’s pretty exciting for us here.
    Spending it for women’s shelter, say, to help victims of domestic violence, that doesn’t excite us.

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