The future is now – from targeting suspicious
drones, to weaponising their own, police forces around the world
are harnessing the capabilities of unmanned aerial vehicles to
Unmanned aerial vehicles, better known as drones, are quickly
becoming more accessible as they become less expensive and as more
manufacturers enter the market. Their applications are broad
– small drones are used for commercial applications from
taking real estate photographs to surveying livestock, not to
mention their popularity among hobbyists who might previously have
flown model aircraft.
However, as the use of drones increases, law enforcement has had
to innovate in order to ensure that communities remain safe given
the potential for criminal misuse.
In late 2015, police in Tokyo announced that they would be
patrolling areas where use of drones is forbidden with their own
net-carrying, drone-disabling drones. The news came after a drone
carrying a small amount of radioactive material was able to land on
the roof of the office of the Japanese prime minister in April
2015. The police unit will locate and, if necessary, capture drones
flown by members of public around important buildings.
Other innovations for downing errant drones are also in the
pipeline, including Boeing's Compact Laser Weapons System which
can track and disable an airborne drone by burning through it.
As with many technological advances, drones have traditionally
been associated with military and counterterrorism applications.
The capacity for small drones to be similarly weaponised is
therefore clear. And while pilotless law enforcement vehicles might
previously have been the stuff of science fiction, the era of
drones being used by police is not just approaching, it is
In North Dakota, a bill introduced by Republican state
representative Rick Becker to limit the powers of police to use
drones was amended and passed to effectively legalise law
enforcement use of armed drones. While the bill was intended to
require police to obtain a warrant before using a drone to search
for evidence, it also prohibited weapons aboard drones – in
order to have the warrant measure passed, compromise was required
on the weapons matter after lobby groups got involved. Moving
forward, North Dakota police forces can legally use drones to
operate weapons considered to be "less than lethal",
which would include weapons like Tasers, guns with rubber bullets,
and tear gas or pepper spray dispensers.
In Australia, specific laws regarding weaponisation of drones
have not yet been considered necessary, either in relation to
criminal misuse or law enforcement. However, with new law coming
into effect in September 2016 to relax to requirements for users of
drones under 2 kilograms, which includes most recreational drones,
one thing which is clear is that there will soon be more drones
than ever in our skies and it might not be long before lawmakers
will need to turn their minds to these matters.
The content of this article is intended to provide a general
guide to the subject matter. Specialist advice should be sought
about your specific circumstances.
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After some delay, Australia's aviation safety regulator, the Civil Aviation Safety Authority , has announced the approval of new rules governing the operation of remotely piloted aircraft in Australia.
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