The Montgomery County Sherriff's Department was one of the first in the nation to purchase the $300,000 Vanguard Shadowhawk drone with grant money provided by the U.S. Department of Homeland Security, according to the Houston Chronicle
. The unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV) is equipped with sophisicated cameras and capable of firing rubber bullets, ejecting tear gas canisters and launching taser projectiles.
While the drone is currently being used for surveillance purposes only, law enforcement officials are considering utilizing these weapons systems.
"It might be advantageous to have this type of 'less lethal' weapons platform on the UAV," said Randy McDaniel, the chief deputy for the Montgomery County Sherriff's Department, in an interview with The Daily
While tasers and rubber bullets are intended to merely subdue suspects, they have the potential to kill. According to Raw Story
, an Amnesty International Report found that tasers were responsible for 351 deaths in the U.S. between June 2001 and August 2008.
Catherine Crump, an attorney with the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), has expressed concerns about the use of such weapons on domestic drones. “It’s simply not appropriate to use any force, lethal or non-lethal, on a drone,” she told CBS News
"There's a big difference between an individual officer on the ground deciding to use force and a drone operator making the same decision," Crump added.
In additon, the potential for use of even more lethal weapons exists. According to Salon
, an Ohio police lieutenant interested in the drone was told by Vanguard representatives that it is also capable of carrying grenade lunchers and 12-gauge shotguns.
If the reports of civilian deaths caused by ongoing drone strikes
in Yemen are any indication, the use of offensive weapons on UAVs operating inside the U.S. could actually do more harm than good.