ND Rep. Rick Becker Says Original Bill Had Nothing to Do With Weaponizing Drones

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North Dakota police agencies can now take to the skies, legally as of August 1st.

North Dakota is the first state to allow drones armed with non-lethal weapons to assist law enforcement. But police say they don’t plan on using it.

Drone technology is not new to North Dakota. But as one of six FAA drone test sites in the nation is being built in Grand Forks, a completely different use of drones is now legal in the state.

“It allows law enforcement to use drone technology and it also allows those drones to be equipped with non-lethal weapons,” says Lt. Michael Mitchell of Fargo Police.

State representative Rick Becker of Bismarck was the Republican sponsor for the bill.

But what he was proposing had nothing to do with weapons. In fact, it prohibited them.

“The primary intent of the bill was to require that law enforcement have a search warrant in order to conduct surveillance on a private citizen,” says Becker.

But a law enforcement lobbyist asked for several amendments, including one that would remove the prohibition of non-lethal weapons.

“Somebody in law enforcement clearly wanted the option to use non-lethal weapons otherwise they wouldn’t have expressly written it,” Becker says.

The bill passed in the last legislative session and Governor Dalrymple signed it into law in April.

So now, drones like this can legally be armed with tasers, tear gas, bean-bag cannons and more. But Fargo Police are not completely on board.

“Non-lethal weapons is something that is a little, that we’re not, we have no intention of using and it was kind of a surprise that they included that in there,” Mitchell says.

But Fargo Police say they can’t think of any scenario where using weaponized drones would be necessary.

“It would be more utilized for finding missing people,” says Mitchell.
Becker plans to reintroduce his original bill, prohibiting all weaponized drones, in 2017.

If departments do want to use weaponized drones, they have to be operated by a licensed pilot and be FAA approved.

That process can take up to two years.