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Stephen Dean reports: "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."

Police in Montgomery County, Texas, have puchased an unmanned drone. (photo: KPRC Local 2)
Police in Montgomery County, Texas, have puchased an unmanned drone. (photo: KPRC Local 2)



New Texas Police Drone Could Carry Weapons

By Stephen Dean, KPRC (Houston)

31 October 11

 

The video attached to this story looks cool enough, but imagine that you are suspected of something illegal and you are under surveillance by a local police department drone. Let's say you are innocent of any illegal activity, but you engage in behavior that is embarrassing. For example, a politician in a conservative area meets a same-sex partner. Your civil liberties would be violated. Fast forward to a time when they decide to weaponize the drone: The person behind the joystick could misunderstand the situation because he isn't on the ground hearing the subjects he is watching from miles away. The result could be innocent people being harmed. Drones for local law enforcement is a bad idea that will only get worse in time. -- SMG/RSN

 

 

The Unmanned Aerial Vehicle could be used in hunting criminals who are running from police or assessing a scene where SWAT team officers are facing an active shooter.

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.

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 could have been used to help firefighters in the recent tri-county wildfires, he said, and it also could be handy in future scenarios like a recent search for a missing college student in The Woodlands.

In 2007, Local 2 Investigates uncovered a secret Houston Police Department test of a different kind of drone, fueling a nationwide debate over civil liberties and privacy.

A constitutional law professor and other civil liberties watchdogs told Local 2 Investigates that questions about police searches without warrants would crop up, as well as police spying into back yards or other private areas.

HPD fueled that 2007 controversy even further by suggesting that drones could be used for writing speeding tickets.

The backlash prompted Mayor Annise Parker to scrap HPD's plans for using drones when she took office.

Gage said he is aware of those concerns.

"No matter what we do in law enforcement, somebody's going to question it, but we're going to do the right thing, and I can assure you of that," he said.

He said two deputies are finishing their training and should be ready to fly police missions within the next month.

Tapped to operate the Montgomery County Sheriff's helicopter UAV are Sgt. Melvin Franklin, a licensed pilot, and Lt. Damon Hall, who heads the department's crime lab and crime scene unit. The sheriff said Hall's SWAT team background will assist the department in using the new tool on hostage standoffs or active shooter events.

The ShadowHawk chopper was displayed on a small conference room table as it was unveiled Friday. It displayed a sheriff's logo and flashing blue lights on the side. On the front of the chopper, a grapefruit sized back unit houses the camera and Forward Looking Infra-Red (FLIR) sensor that can detect heat from a gun or a suspect's body.

Deputies said they can quickly switch between day and night vision on the camera, which is zoomed and moved from side to side by a game-like console inside a police command vehicle on the ground.

The display shows up on a small TV-like box, while the actual flight controls are handled from a laptop computer.

Michael Buscher, chief executive officer of manufacturer Vanguard Defense Industries, said this is the first local law enforcement agency to buy one of his units.

He said they are designed to carry weapons for local law enforcement.

"The aircraft has the capability to have a number of different systems on board. Mostly, for law enforcement, we focus on what we call less lethal systems," he said, including Tazers that can send a jolt to a criminal on the ground or a gun that fires bean bags known as a "stun baton."

"You have a stun baton where you can actually engage somebody at altitude with the aircraft. A stun baton would essentially disable a suspect," he said.

Gage said he has no immediate plans to outfit his drone with weapons, and he also ruled out using the chopper for catching speeders.

"We're not going to use it for that," he said.

Chief Deputy Randy McDaniel said, "I'm tickled to death" about using the drone, pointing out that in his years of police work he could imagine countless incidents having ended more quickly and easily.

"It's so simple in its design and the objectives, you just wonder why anyone would choose not to have it," said McDaniel.

At the same time Houston police were testing a different drone, the Miami-Dade Metro Police department was also taking test flights of a helicopter UAV, and the Federal Aviation Administration said that department is now using its drone for local police work.

The San Diego Police Department also made local headlines in 2008 for beginning its own flights with a fixed-wing UAV.

But Les Dorr, an FAA spokesman in Washington, said very few local police departments actually have the required certificate of authorization (COA) to fly police missions nationwide.

He said Montgomery County is the first COA by a local police department in all of Texas.

In September 2008, the Government Accountability Office issued a 73-page report that raised issues about police drones endangering airspace for small planes or even commercial airliners.

The report's author, Gerald Dillingham, said that 65 percent of the crashes of military drones on the battlefield were caused by mechanical failures.

He said a police UAV could lose its link to the ground controllers if wind knocks the aircraft out of range or the radio frequencies are disrupted.

"If you lose that communication link as the result of that turbulence or for any other reason, then you have an aircraft that is not in control and can in fact crash into something on the ground or another aircraft," said Dillingham.

Pilots of small planes expressed those concerns in the original 2007 Local 2 Investigates reporting on police drones, and the FAA reported then that police departments across the country were lining up to apply for their own drones.

At Montgomery County, Franklin said an onboard GPS system is designed to keep the UAV on target and connected with the ground controllers. He said coordinates are plotted in advance and a command is given for the UAV to fly directly to that spot, adjusting to turbulence and other factors. He said he and the other controller can alter "waypoints" quickly on the laptop to move the chopper to areas that had not previously been mapped out. He said the aircraft moves at a speed of 30 knots, which he said makes it unsuitable for police pursuits.

Small aircraft pilots have expressed concerns that drones cannot practice the "see and avoid" rule that keeps aircraft from colliding in mid-air. Since the camera may be aimed somewhere else, pilots said police controllers may not be able to see and avoid other aircraft in the area during a sudden police emergency.

Gage said he would take every concern into account as his UAV is deployed.

The only routine law enforcement flights inside the United States over the past four years have been the Department of Homeland Security's Immigration and Customs Enforcement. Their border flights over Texas and Arizona have included one crash, where the drone lost its link to the ground controller.

 

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+12 # Activista 2011-10-31 18:01
Palestine becomes member of UNESCO, US cuts funds
AIPAC controls US foreign policy!
 
 
+27 # Michael_K 2011-10-31 19:36
Gage said he is aware of those concerns.

"No matter what we do in law enforcement, somebody's going to question it, but we're going to do the right thing, and I can assure you of that," he said.

Yes, well! At a time when the so-called Democratic President of the United States is perfectly comfortable using drones to assassinate US citizens (one of them a minor) without any due process whatsoever... can we really trust some deputy-dawg backwoods Sheriff to do the right thing?

I think not!
 
 
+26 # Uranus 2011-10-31 20:05
Armed, unmanned aerial vehicles are supposed to violate the Geneva Convention, as per blitzkrieg, the fire bombing of London. Tyranny takes hold by small increments.
 
 
+2 # futhark 2011-11-01 02:12
Uranus, I would love to see a reference for this statement. Actually, the Hague Conventions are the treaties that designate prohibited inhumane technologies, such as poison gas, used in warfare. I'm trying to find out if the United States is a co-signatory to the Hague Conventions, as well. References requested.

If your statement is true, then all missiles of any sort, such as ICBMs, artillery shells, rifle bullets, or even arrows and crossbow bolts, could conceivably be banned.

If land mines and depleted uranium projectiles are not on the Hague Conventions prohibited list, they ought to be added, along with drones.
 
 
+9 # in deo veritas 2011-11-01 05:57
In the eyes of the world it is likely that each step we are taking in this mine field shows that we do not adhere to any law other than that of corporate fascism. Where do we rank on the list of terrorist countries? Are we committed to being number one about everything? Just remember that as in sports being number one makes you everybody's target. Sometimes better to be number two and try harder but in a good way.
 
 
+3 # Uranus 2011-11-01 19:41
Provisions of Geneva and Hague Conventions tend to be specific. I'm thinking of a certain part of Protocol III of the United Nations Convention on Certain Conventional Weapons, effective December, 1983. That language would encompass the kind of unmanned fire bomb Germany launched on London in that it is used on civilians, is indiscriminate and has the primary purpose of starting fires.

Obviously shooting bean bags and taser leads (if that's what happens) doesn't fit these requirements. Or does it? Maybe, if someone or something gets burned. Probably not.

This tool is too new to have a its own treaty sections, but this is a weapon of war presumably being used without a declaration. There are ways to frame it within the contents in both Geneva and Hague. I see trouble ahead for it in the international community, and well there should be.
 
 
+3 # Activista 2011-11-01 20:24
"if the United States is a co-signatory to the Hague Conventions"?
NO - because Israel is NOT - and ISRAEL controls US foreign policy - like admitting Palestine to UN.
 
 
+2 # futhark 2011-11-02 12:05
Because of rapid advances in weapons technologies, the Hague Conventions need to be revisited at regular periods, sort of like the Olympics. I suggest that the United Nations invite representatives to attend to revisions of the Hague Conventions regularly every 10 years to review new weapons technologies and ban by treaty any that pose significant threats to noncombatants.
 
 
+8 # Rita Walpole Ague 2011-11-01 02:44
Yes indeed, Uranus. Our evil tyranny here in the U.S. of (greed and power) A. (ddiction) has been a long time coming, but took a giant step forward in 2000, with the election frauded, non-election of 'W', another, so wished for by the 1%, Pearl Harbour in the form of 9/11, and then the big increment Patriot Act, giving birth to our current Police State, surveilling and slaying via drones (so loved by the biggest disappointment in my lifetime - OhBombAh).

Rule of law is now in the toilet, including international law, such as the Geneva Convention which, in better times, we promised to obey.

Time to unite, here and across the world, and revolt against evil. Go, Occupiers, Go!
 
 
+19 # reiverpacific 2011-10-31 21:11
Any bets on when the "white-shirt bad cops" (I do believe there are good cops too) will start using these if OWS and it's offshoots keep up the pressure?
Maybe B. of A., Chase, Goldman Sachs and co. will buy a few and hire "Private security consultants" trained in their use; they can well afford it and anybody that has unleashed the current criminal depression on the country for their gain are capable of anything!
And there's that word "Defense" being misused again!
 
 
+14 # CL38 2011-10-31 22:10
This is a terrible idea, that will eventually be misused by the police or some right wing organization to hurt innocent people.

The right is so driven by fear and greed that they've lost all common sense and reason. They seem to believe the myth they've created that the 1% are completely entitled to what they've stolen from the American people.
 
 
+9 # tedrey 2011-10-31 22:33
Scenario # 1: A society in which the police force and its weapons are responsible to dmocratic control and carefully crafted legal parameters. Maybe there could be limited use of such equipment.

Scenario #2: An incipient police state with total lack of transparancy and democratic control, and a total lack of legal guidelines. Better keep this equipment away from police before it's too late.

Which is coser to our current situation?
 
 
+6 # reiverpacific 2011-11-01 06:36
Quoting tedrey:
Scenario # 1: A society in which the police force and its weapons are responsible to dmocratic control and carefully crafted legal parameters. Maybe there could be limited use of such equipment.

Scenario #2: An incipient police state with total lack of transparancy and democratic control, and a total lack of legal guidelines. Better keep this equipment away from police before it's too late.

Which is coser to our current situation?

Right!
The Second Amendment states "A WELL REGULATED MILITIA, being necessary to security of A FREE STATE, the right of the people to keep and bear Arms, shall not be infringed".
I wonder what they'd have thought of the ridiculous destructive power of the militarized local and state militias (cops) and the ability of national militia (Military-indus trial bloc) to end the human race when the framers of the constitution wrote "Well-Maintaine d".
I'd have been interested to see how an amendment could be added to address "OUT OF CONTROL" militia, not to mention the even more sophisticated "Private Militia (Mercenary Goons) recruited from the scum of the third world and apartheid era death squads, trained in many cases at Fort Benning, Ga.
 
 
+11 # bullinachinacloset 2011-10-31 22:52
300,000 Dollars = 10 police officers salaries at 30,000 apiece yearly. or teachers. Homeland Security grants - my how generously my federally seized tax dollars are spent to subsidize the high-tech military industrial complex. Chomsky is right on the money here. Houston law enforcement does not need this tool. I am sure it has it's uses. But the cops in this area prevail safely every time without it. it's not like the Taliban are encircling the city. This is an instance of good ole boys with a new toy. And every other law enforcement agency is going to be in a race to have one, too, just like the muscle cars and SUV's. it's vulgar, base ego-driven conspicuous consumption. I pay for it with my tax dollars, and it sucks. I motion that all police have to drive in ugly, economical and efficient solar power cars, wear ugly uniforms, and use billy clubs and batons, like in London. There is such a thing as a law enforcement that works too well. And give robotics a few more years. Soon those drones are going to pilot themselves. Think I Robot or Terminator IV. Do you want to live in that kind of world? Most of the bullies I knew in middle school either became a sheriff or aspire to the position. I say make them buy their own model airplane toys on their own dime and play with them on their own time. That's my two cents.
 
 
+10 # mwd870 2011-11-01 02:50
It's not a constitutional reality, but can Texas please secede for the sake of the rest of the country?
 
 
+6 # in deo veritas 2011-11-01 06:00
And take AZ and several other wacko states with you.
 
 
+2 # Glen 2011-11-01 07:27
It isn't just Texas that is pursuing the drone, it is also states that were once considered sane, as Oregon.

The entire world is seeking to obtain drones and are buying them from - yep, the U.S.A.
 
 
+1 # Glen 2011-11-01 03:40
One of my favorite groups and one of their great pieces came to mind with this article:

"...this air to ground saga..."

The music that represents various eras in the U.S. or world came from rather serious events, and the introduction of the drone to the world, and now the U.S. is one of those serious events.

"Hey Mr. Policeman
Is it time for getting away
Is it time for driving down the mother fuckin' road
And running from your ass today"

Low Fidelity Allstars, Battleflag
 
 
+5 # Kootenay Coyote 2011-11-01 06:55
I recall diverse SF stories from 50 & 60 years ago that dealt with this technology, uniformly seeing it as an invasion of citizens’ integrity & tool of totalitarianism ; & they didn’t like it....
 
 
+2 # Glen 2011-11-01 13:06
There are a couple of magazines that have reported on various, threatening technologies over the years, Wired Magazine being one of them. Same with science fiction writings, and those made into movies.

Folks should have paid more attention.
 
 
+9 # Vardoz 2011-11-01 07:39
I just called the Obama hotline 202 456 1111 and the Dept of Home Land Security comment line 202 -282-8495 and said that using our tax dollars for drones that are being used in wars and are now going to be used against the people of the United States should be illegal! Some sheriff somewhere will have the potental to kill a person, most likely some poor person of color who they think might look like they are robbing a convenience store and what will be next? Firing on peaceful unarmed people who are thought to be protesters? Or perhaps they will be unarmed protesters! They are using our tax dollars! Where does the abuse end? When do we decide to place humanitarian principles and eithics and contstitutional rights ahead of corporate abuse and profit? There has to be limits and some aherence to rule of law and how much threat to our rights and civil liberties and lives are to be allowed! How many innocent people have been killed in Afghanistan using unmanned drones? Many! So call and tell them we are against a menthod of surveillance that has already proven very unreliable and is a threat to human life. We will not tolerate being used as Guinea Pigs for weaponry that is a threat to Americans so that weapons manufactures can make money! Things have gone too far!
 
 
+7 # gentle 2011-11-01 07:41
WMF (weapons of mass fear) fit right into the corporate gulog, that is the USA's freedom creed from Wall street's 1%.
 
 
+3 # fredboy 2011-11-01 09:33
Here we go!
 
 
+3 # Anarchist 23 2011-11-01 12:18
Remember that old saying-'USA-Lov e it or Leave It? '

I am seriously thinking of leaving!
 
 
0 # Glen 2011-11-02 04:11
A lot of us would already be gone except for family responsibilitie s and such. We've been under surveillance for years now, even from orbit. Helicopters and the scopes attached, thermal stuff, you name it. We are a target no matter where we go.
 
 
0 # Buddha 2011-11-03 14:57
Don't fool yourself, while our rights are eroding before our eyes, most nations have even higher amounts of survellance and less rights. Not sure where you can go if the entire developed world becomes one big police-corporat ocratic-state.. .
 
 
+1 # Buddha 2011-11-03 14:59
Anybody else got pictures of Orwell's 1984 in their mind with this? Remember, we already got thanks to the Patriot Act our government able to spy on us without court order...add to that the precedent set by Obama of president's ordering hits on American citizens who have never been convicted in a court of law, even in absentia, and the ability to incarcerate "suspects" of terrorism indefinitely with no rights to habeus corpus...
 

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