Skip to comments.New Police Drone Near Houston Could Carry Weapons
Posted on 10/30/2011 10:06:38 AM PDT by markomalley
CONROE, Texas -- A Houston area law enforcement agency is prepared to launch an unmanned drone that could someday carry weapons, Local 2 Investigates reported Friday.
The Montgomery County Sheriff's Office in Conroe paid $300,000 in federal homeland security grant money and Friday it received the ShadowHawk unmanned helicopter made by Vanguard Defense Industries of Spring.
A laptop computer is used to control the 50-pound unmanned chopper, and a game-like console is used to aim and zoom a powerful camera and infrared heat-seeking device mounted on the front.
"To be in on the ground floor of this is pretty exciting for us here in Montgomery County," Sheriff Tommy Gage said.
He said the Unmanned Aerial Vehicle (UAV) could be used in hunting criminals who are running from police or assessing a scene where SWAT team officers are facing an active shooter.
Gage said it will also be deployed for criminal investigations such as drug shipments.
"We're not going to use it to be invading somebody's privacy. It'll be used for situations we have with criminals," Gage said.
It could have been used to help firefighters in the recent tri-county wildfires, he said, and it also could be handy in future scenarios like a recent search for a missing college student in The Woodlands.
In 2007, Local 2 Investigates uncovered a secret Houston Police Department test of a different kind of drone, fueling a nationwide debate over civil liberties and privacy.
A constitutional law professor and other civil liberties watchdogs told Local 2 Investigates that questions about police searches without warrants would crop up, as well as police spying into back yards or other private areas.
HPD fueled that 2007 controversy even further by suggesting that drones could be used for writing speeding tickets.
The backlash prompted Mayor Annise Parker to scrap HPD's plans for using drones when she took office.
Gage said he is aware of those concerns.
"No matter what we do in law enforcement, somebody's going to question it, but we're going to do the right thing, and I can assure you of that," he said.
He said two deputies are finishing their training and should be ready to fly police missions within the next month.
Tapped to operate the Montgomery County Sheriff's helicopter UAV are Sgt. Melvin Franklin, a licensed pilot, and Lt. Damon Hall, who heads the department's crime lab and crime scene unit. The sheriff said Hall's SWAT team background will assist the department in using the new tool on hostage standoffs or active shooter events.
The ShadowHawk chopper was displayed on a small conference room table as it was unveiled Friday. It displayed a sheriff's logo and flashing blue lights on the side. On the front of the chopper, a grapefruit sized back unit houses the camera and Forward Looking Infra-Red (FLIR) sensor that can detect heat from a gun or a suspect's body.
Deputies said they can quickly switch between day and night vision on the camera, which is zoomed and moved from side to side by a game-like console inside a police command vehicle on the ground.
The display shows up on a small TV-like box, while the actual flight controls are handled from a laptop computer.
Michael Buscher, chief executive officer of manufacturer Vanguard Defense Industries, said this is the first local law enforcement agency to buy one of his units.
He said they are designed to carry weapons for local law enforcement.
"The aircraft has the capability to have a number of different systems on board. Mostly, for law enforcement, we focus on what we call less lethal systems," he said, including Tazers that can send a jolt to a criminal on the ground or a gun that fires bean bags known as a "stun baton."
"You have a stun baton where you can actually engage somebody at altitude with the aircraft. A stun baton would essentially disable a suspect," he said.
Gage said he has no immediate plans to outfit his drone with weapons, and he also ruled out using the chopper for catching speeders.
"We're not going to use it for that," he said.
Chief Deputy Randy McDaniel said, "I'm tickled to death" about using the drone, pointing out that in his years of police work he could imagine countless incidents having ended more quickly and easily.
"It's so simple in its design and the objectives, you just wonder why anyone would choose not to have it," said McDaniel.
At the same time Houston police were testing a different drone, the Miami-Dade Metro Police department was also taking test flights of a helicopter UAV, and the Federal Aviation Administration said that department is now using its drone for local police work.
The San Diego Police Department also made local headlines in 2008 for beginning its own flights with a fixed-wing UAV.
But Les Dorr, an FAA spokesman in Washington, said very few local police departments actually have the required certificate of authorization (COA) to fly police missions nationwide.
He said Montgomery County is the first COA by a local police department in all of Texas.
In September 2008, the Government Accountability Office issued a 73-page report that raised issues about police drones endangering airspace for small planes or even commercial airliners.
The report's author, Gerald Dillingham, told Local 2 Investigates that 65 percent of the crashes of military drones on the battlefield were caused by mechanical failures.
He said a police UAV could lose its link to the ground controllers if wind knocks the aircraft out of range or the radio frequencies are disrupted.
"If you lose that communication link as the result of that turbulence or for any other reason, then you have an aircraft that is not in control and can in fact crash into something on the ground or another aircraft," said Dillingham.
Pilots of small planes expressed those concerns in the original 2007 Local 2 Investigates reporting on police drones, and the FAA reported then that police departments across the country were lining up to apply for their own drones.
At Montgomery County, Franklin said an onboard GPS system is designed to keep the UAV on target and connected with the ground controllers. He said coordinates are plotted in advance and a command is given for the UAV to fly directly to that spot, adjusting to turbulence and other factors. He said he and the other controller can alter "waypoints" quickly on the laptop to move the chopper to areas that had not previously been mapped out. He said the aircraft moves at a speed of 30 knots, which he said makes it unsuitable for police pursuits.
Small aircraft pilots have expressed concerns that drones cannot practice the "see and avoid" rule that keeps aircraft from colliding in mid-air. Since the camera may be aimed somewhere else, pilots said police controllers may not be able to see and avoid other aircraft in the area during a sudden police emergency.
Gage said he would take every concern into account as his UAV is deployed.
The only routine law enforcement flights inside the United States over the past four years have been the Department of Homeland Security's Immigration and Customs Enforcement. Their border flights over Texas and Arizona have included one crash, where the drone lost its link to the ground controller.
Uh, not just no, but F*** no.
Model Rocketry could experience a resurgence.
First question, what frequency do these operate on?
I live in Montgomery co., things are a changing with all the DHS grant money being provided.
Cameras installed everywhere, new IR surveillance, 360 radar, lil spy choppers in Tomball.
So I'm just wondering why ordinary citizens feel like suspects in the whole terror protection scenario.
The militarization of police forces continues. Posse Comitatus is dead. Are they expecting an insurgency? (Will their expectations be self-fulfilling?)
Police state alert!
Dove season in Montgomery County will be open again Dec. 23, 2011-Jan. 8, 2012.
30 years ago I mistakenly shot somebody’s homing pigeon while hunting dove. It would be a shame for somebody there to make a mistake.
“I thought it was illegal to arm police helicopters”
Lots of them around those parts.
I was thinking along those lines - thoughts of trap and skeet shooting came to mind.
These people are certifiable idiots.
1. Social blogs did a FAR better job of communicating during the Tri-County fire than this asshat Tommy Gauge did or Montgomery County in general.
2. They have waaaay too much tax money. Montgomery County is growing by leaps and bounds and we still have the same roads, save for improvements on 1488 which were not completely funded by the county. It is a STATE FM road. Taxes rages here and population here are growing beyond inflation... what a shock
3. Lost in the Woodlands... a college student lost in this huge subdivision with roads about every 2 or 3 blocks should be lost and forgotten since he is stupid. You can’t not hear cars.... idiot.
4. This toy would have worked in the fire? Yeah, right. The fire was so hot the updrafts prevented even airplanes from overflying.
5. Morons, little town minds have hit the jackpot.
The video was touting the capabilities of the departments capabilities....I believe it was more of a recruitment tool.
It was stunning to see the military style training these guys are receiving and the weapons they employ.
You can get a Parrot ar.Drone for $300: Amazon.com Parrot ar.Drone
“We’re not going to use it to be invading somebody’s privacy. It’ll be used for situations we have with criminals,” Gage said.”
Well, I’m glad that’s settled.
"Not right away at least. We'll wait a while before we start peeking in your bedrooms and sh** like that."
In a serious insurrection, those cameras and other devices can be torn down and destroyed in minutes.
I thought this topic might interest you, I don’t have you on a ping list or anything, but I thought it was too important to not mention.
"30 years ago I mistakenly shot somebodys homing pigeon while hunting dove. It would be a shame for somebody there to make a mistake."
You've certainly hit upon something here. ha-ha. The trick, of course, would be to not have this device "see" you and transmit those photos back to the host.
In Houston's defense, I believe that their elevated crime situation really became "elevated" during and after Hurricane Katrina in '05. I don't know how many, if any, of those "first class" citizens have since returned home. I suspect very few, so that would certainly intensify Houston's desire to control their activities.
As for Houston Police's assertion that they would only be surveying criminal activity, I'd ask the question, "How long would it take for the desire to surveil everyone fully develop?"
>>touting the capabilities of the departments capabilities<<
Wow, blood sugars low. Brilliant post....lol
“I’d ask the question, ‘How long would it take for the desire to surveil everyone fully develop?’”
The desire is already there, the capability is now here, and the only thing that’s stopping them is the fear of the public, which is why they are innoculating us to violence against people accused of no crime, and of bombing us citizens from above. This is as bad as it gets, we just haven’t reached fruition yet, which will be a culmination of that bad.
“The militarization of police forces continues. Posse Comitatus is dead. Are they expecting an insurgency? (Will their expectations be self-fulfilling?)”
It’s not only self fulfilling, they’re trying to drive that situation upon us. As soon as the thugs say they’re not going to do something, you can be assured that they already are.
Said it tickles him to see this lil mini chopper and the silver helmeted dude peeking over the side as he buzzes by like a mosquito.
The fact that they attached it to a joystick indicates that it’s merely a game to them. I expect these machine to get smaller and smaller until they’re the size of bugs (which by the way, there are remote control cockroaches with cameras, I read in a tech magazine about 5 years ago, they tap into its CNS and have a little camera mounted to it’s back, at the time, it couldn’t transmit, but by now I’m sure they can).
Every intersection has 3 to 11 cameras each.
The other day, my wife commented on one intersection in Tomball with 11 cameras. She usually does not pay much attention to such things.
If it caught her attention...I know it's creepy.
I know this. As sure as God made little green apples this technology will be abused by police depts. That is for certain and for sure.
Client: "There is this flashing thing following me, up in the air."
OnStar: "That's not possible, sir, that tracking device is certainly out of your visual range."
Client: "Can you help me?
OnStar: "Sure! We can turn off the power of your GM vehicle right about n--."
The keywords here are toooo funny.
Thanks. Odd weapon for police. I’ve heard that Houston is flush with business and revenues.
I know. I live in Maryland and the cameras are everywhere. Even on quiet, out of the way intersections. However, I don't recall any public input or voter authorization for the installation of these cameras or for this kind of surveillance. Yes, it is creepy and people should be aware of it. I think its way out of control now.
Less Lethal???? is still lethal. Just WoW.
This is the start. These devices will soon be the size of houseflies and deployed by the millions. There will be no more privacy unless we tell the ruling class that enough is enough.
Agreed, and I don’t even think that it’s the privacy that will be the most important (though privacy is very important). Once they start putting more and more weapons on these smaller and smaller drones, how long before we have “assassin bug drones” that carry a tiny needle, etc, that will kill whoever is on the hit list. People are already being bombed from the sky, what if a small bird sized drone with an explosive can simply be flown near your and detonated, or a small drone with a tiny needle and nerve toxin is deployed.
I realize there are a lot of ignorant people who think big brother is merely privacy invasive, but there is already an established order of killing citizens, ala Waco, and Ruby Ridge. How long before science coupled with the police state becomes THE nightmare of Biblical proportions. Not long, I suspect.
Model Rocketry could experience a resurgence.
Suddenly, the 2nd Amendment takes on a whole new meaning! It seems to me if domestic police forces have drones they can potentially arm, We The People might have a legal right to own shoulder-launched anti-aircraft missiles as a means to protect ourselves against potential tyranny... I’m just sayin.’
If what I’ve heard about Houston is true, that drone should have no shortage of targets.
Well, there is always the history of American exceptionalism wrt technology advances. Backyard arrays could readily be promulgated.
Oh, I thoroughly believe that America will make it through the dark period to come, but I by no means believe that we’ll be unscathed. The fact is that there is a group of people who thinks they have the right to rule everyone else. At some point it’s going to come down to a decision of whether or not that is true, and it’s going to be a costly debate.
The price the Eloi paid for their complacent “freedom” was to be dinner to the Morlocks.
Everyone already has that God-given right, just not the government-given priviledge.
When I read articles like this, I understand Alex Jones’ points - which though I find him pretty interesting to listen to, admittedly sometimes get a bit shrill.
There’s (always) a good “reason” for everything like this. But like seat belt laws which were originally promised not to be a ticket by themselves (I remember clearly, that was promised), always there’s more to these sorts of things.
Now, not wearing a seatbelt is reason alone for a ticket. All these sorts of things, “creep” that way.
Every single time. First it’s a tiny toe in the door, then it’s more and more and more laws.
Too bad Houston isn’t on the border.
In other words, if we kill you in a plane, that's just too bad, because we WILL deploy this UAV. Public servant my Arse... These days, under this Administration the public is disposable.
Don't forget the "creep" from Civil to Criminal and Misdemeanor to Felony.
sounds like BLUE THUNDER from the ‘80s.
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