What is to be done when innocent lives are being taken at the hands of the short emotional fuses or personal biases of our law enforcement officials? Certainly something drastic and immediate, as this type of behavior contradicts everything we have been led to believe about the police. Only now, thanks to cellphone cameras and technology are we realizing how severe the violence is in the police brutality epidemic.
With videos depicting such contempt towards humanity (Ferguson, Charleston, Philadelphia), it’s reassuring to hear that laws have recently been passed requiring law enforcement officials to wear body cameras at all times. The problem was discovered through technology, as well as its solution. But when is the clashing of the two too much, or even threatening? A new law in North Dakota has legal firms as well as citizens in a nervous paranoia, wondering this very question.
The new bill, otherwise known as House Bill 1328, passed in late August and effectively permitted North Dakotan law enforcement officials to fly and navigate ‘police drones’. Equipped with functioning tasers and tear gas, the size of the drones themselves vary widely from the ‘small-bird’ to the more hazardous 12 foot drone that can have more cannons attached to them. Many are questioning not only the judgment of the police officials, but also the machines’ practicality in the first place. You can’t blame them, especially considering the shaking of collective trust for the police that’s come about the previous years, as well as the pre-existing controversy regarding drones. You can’t hold a non-sentient machine on trial.
President Obama tended to the worries and grief of his people when he set in motion restrictions for police officials, limiting the access and quantity of ammunition and guns they have. The body cameras appeared to be the icing on the cake, the smoothing of the cement, the final reassurance of the doubt. But doesn’t this new jurisdiction being granted to police in North Dakota seem like a step backwards? Doesn’t it seem counter-intuitive? Many have thought this, and in turn the bill’s original drafter who’d proposed it to congress, Bismarck Republican Rick Becker, came out publicly to clear up any misconceptions about the bill.
Initially proposing a drone bill in 2013 that put restrictions on police officials as well as requiring a search warrant for them to monitor citizens with the devices, it gained little to no recognition, ultimately failing. With law enforcement lobbyists claiming to not uphold any opposition to the bill if amendments were added to it, the bill was reintroduced in 2015, with the amendment to remove the prohibition of non-lethal weapons added in. In its second run, the bill was welcomed with immense support from the law enforcement community in North Dakota, but this time included such non-lethal weapons as sound cannons, tear gas, rubber bullets, and tasers.
Despite the fear of the threatening of civil liberties and fair use, law enforcement lobbyists argue that weaponized drones could be highly effective. Not only for state police departments, but SWAT teams as well. Claiming there to be many instances when law enforcement officials cannot surveil or intrude a certain crime scene properly, the drones would theoretically help out here. With this ambitious new bill reaching official status, the details are left in the black and white. As well as the potential repercussions.
The real question at this point is left up to the people: How much do we really trust technology? Yes, we trust it every day to make calls for us, get us places, and get us a happy meal in less than thirty seconds, but how much do we REALLY trust it. Sentient, un-controlled technology that is, technology that is running purely on autopilot, on its own – I for one don’t trust it for a second. Mercedes-Benz released a new concept car last year for a driverless car, a car in which the front two seats rotate around 180 degrees, to allow you to have conversation with the remaining passengers while your car drives you to your destination according to GPS coordinates. Technology is shorting out unexpectedly all the time. I’m just waiting for the day that one of the users of these ‘driverless cars’ gets run right into a tree or off the highway bridge. Who is to blame at that point? No person of course, and who would be to blame in the off chance of one of these weaponized drones going haywire on one of its autopilot settings, unleashing chaos on the people?
The day will come, and when it does we’ll have our answer set in stone: DO NOT TRUST IT.
By Hank Gowdey