Drones are not that new anymore. For the last decade, the public has seen images of drones used in every manner of military operation from spying on the enemy to dropping small munitions.
Drones In the News by C J Oakes
As with any technology, as time passes and manufacturing improves, quality increases and costs go down. The relatively low costs combined with excellent capabilities of modern drones present both opportunities and challenges to criminal justice agencies worldwide.
Drones in Connecticut
Several months ago, the state of Connecticut became the first to launch legislation aimed at allowing the use of drones by law enforcement. Substitute House Bill No. 7260 would allow police departments to purchase and equip drones capable of firing weapons. The idea is that in certain situations wherein a suspect poses a threat to the public and law enforcement officers cannot safely infiltrate to control the situation, the drone can.
The idea is not without opposition. Civil liberties groups are opposing the bill, stating that it could set a dangerous precedent nationwide. Concerns involve privacy issues and more importantly, improper use of force. The latter makes perfect sense when we consider that many law enforcement agencies are currently facing serious public backlash for improper use of force. Take the personal element out of the picture such as occurs with the video feed technology used to guide drones and make life-threatening decisions, and use of force will surely be a factor moving forward.
Still, as law enforcement officials point out, drones are already being employed by criminals for various purposes. So, law enforcement agencies naturally want to even the playing field so to say. Oddly, gun rights advocates are silent on this bill despite the clause,
“no person, except a law enforcement officer performing his or her duties, shall operate or use any computer software or other technology, including, but not limited to, an unmanned aerial vehicle, that allows such person, when not physically present, to release tear gas or any like or similar deleterious agent or to remotely control a deadly weapon, as defined in section 53a-3 of the general statutes, or an explosive or incendiary device, as defined in section 53-206b of the general statutes.” – Connecticut Substitute House Bill No. 7260
Drones in Prison
Another serious concern involves drones and prisons. Although the average drone can only carry two to four pounds (1-2 kg), there are drones on the market today that can carry up to 44 pounds (20kg). This is great news for aerial photographers, but equally great news for smugglers.
One of the fastest growing concerns to prison officials today is drones dropping contraband into the prison yards. One problem is that although officers in towers around the prison have weapons, they cannot fire them at the drones out of concern for where missed rounds will land. If they were to accidentally hit a civilian on the ground a mile away, it would be a problem. So, shooting the drones is out of the question.
Also, given that the average General Population Unit is supervised at a ratio of 100 inmates to each corrections officer, policing the entire yard is impossible. A drone could appear quickly, make the drop, and before anyone other than inmates noticed, there could be drugs or a gun within.
On the island of Guernsey in the English Channel, a novel approach is underway. Les Nicolles Prison will be the first in the world to employ the Sky Fence. Sky Fence is being dubbed a force field, but in reality, it is an array of electronic disrupters. When a drone enters the range of the devices, the controller loses control and the drone plummets to the ground. By deploying these such that the drone cannot enter airspace above a prison, the danger is neutralized.
Demonstrating just how important this technology is to corrections departments worldwide, Forcepoint, a Raytheon Company, has already bought Sky Fence from its developers. Incidentally, Forcepoint is headquartered in Austin, Texas, the capital city of the state with the highest prison population in the world.
For anyone considering an investment in drone stocks, Raytheon would be a good bet.
For anyone considering a career in smuggling contraband into prisons, Sky Fence will no doubt soon put you out of work. So, maybe not such a good bet.