Sheriff’s office employ’s Predator drone spy planes on home front Unmanned aircraft from an Air Force base in North Dakota help local police with surveillance, raising questions that trouble privacy advocates. Nelson County Sheriff Kelly Janke went looking for six missing cows on the Brossart family farm in the early evening of June 23, armed only with a search warrant.
Three men brandishing hunting rifles ran him off, he said.
According to Sheriff Janke the gunmen could be anywhere on the 3,000-acre spread in eastern North Dakota. Fearful of an armed standoff, he called in reinforcements from the state Highway Patrol, a regional SWAT team, a bomb squad, ambulances and deputy sheriffs from three other counties. Sheriff Janke also called in a Predator B drone to help locate the suspects. “The Predator was a decisive factor in locating the suspect quickly”, he said.
The unmanned aircraft flying some 2 miles overhead using sophisticated sensors helped pinpoint the three suspects. Surveillance pictures showed they were unarmed. Sheriff deputies and SWAT (Special Weapons and Tactics) rushed in and made what could be the first known arrests of citizens inside the United States with help from a Predator B, the unmanned spy drone is an unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV), capable of remote controlled or autonomous flight operations, developed by General Atomics Aeronautical Systems (GA-ASI) for use by the United States Air Force, the United States Navy, the CIA, U.S. Customs and Border Protection, as well as the Royal Air Force, and the Italian Air Force. The MQ-9 (Reaper) and other UAVs are referred to as Remotely Piloted Vehicles/Aircraft (RPV/RPA) by the U.S. Air Force to indicate their human ground controllers.
Local police also confirmed that they have used two unarmed Predators based at Grand Forks Air Force Base to fly over two dozen surveillance flights since June.
The FBI and Drug Enforcement Administration have also used Predators in the past for other domestic investigations, officials said.
In Mesa County, Colo., the sheriff’s department is testing a drone called the Dragonfly X6. Ben Miller, unmanned systems coordinator for the sheriff’s office, says it’s been especially useful in search operations. “We had a lost subject in a vegetated creek bed and we were given about a mile length of that creek to search,” Miller says. “We completed that search in just a little over an hour with two staff members.” (see article: “Look, Up In The Sky! It’s A Drone, Looking At You” http://www.npr.org/2011/12/05/143144146/drone-technology-finding-its-way-to-american-skies ).
“More and more UAV’s are being used by local police and sheriff departments” says Dan Hubbert of Charlotte,N.C. a retired intelligence officer and electronic warfare specialist who served with the Department of Defense. “Its just a sign of the times”, he said.
In Houston Texas, police are testing drone aircrafts for a variety of law enforcement uses (see Youtube: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hvtTGPni_z8 ).
One North Carolina county (unconfirmed) is using a UAV equipped with low-light and infrared cameras to keep watch on its citizens.
The aircraft has been dispatched to monitor gatherings of motorcycle riders at the Gaston County fairgrounds from just a few hundred feet in the air–close enough to identify faces–and many more uses, such as the aerial detection of marijuana fields, are planned.
“The use of these type of unmanned aircraft raises not just privacy concerns, but also safety concerns because of the possibility of collisions with commercial and general aviation aircraft”, says Wayne Robinson of Charlotte, a retired air line pilot.