Brother, Can You Spare A Drone?

So Homeland Security has been “quietly” loaning drones to local law enforcement. This reminds me of that great milestone in Homeland Security we now recognize by the place name, “Waco.” BATFE (before they added the E) and the FBI had a major standoff owing to the fact that the BATFE wanted to turn allegations about weapons laws violations into a major raid for the sake of PR. Naturally, since they wanted to raid the compound rather than simply arrest David Koresh on his own, they tried to get every advantage they could in terms of Firepower.

So, according to Wikipedia:

“ATF made a claim that David Koresh was operating a methamphetamine lab, in order to establish a drug nexus and obtain military assets under the War on Drugs. However, the evidence was stale, partly based on an unreliable "hot spot" detected by infrared radar, partly based on disgruntled ex-members who had left six years earlier, and it ignored all the evidence that the lab had been dismantled by Koresh when he took charge and had been given to the Sheriff for destruction. The commander of the Special Forces detachment questioned the request, and the ATF obtained only a training site at Fort Hood, Texas, February 25 though 27, safety inspections for the training lanes, and was given only medical and communications training and equipment.”

If memory serves, the BATFE or FBI were able to get more dangerous toys after the standoff, but my point here is that there were rules for obtaining “military assets.” At one time, local law enforcement simply did not have access to them. Later, an exception was made for the War on Drugs—a rather elastic exception.

The point here is that we don’t seem to have even a hint of such restrictions today. The drones were developed more military missions. Yet they are not only being used by Homeland Security, but are even being given to local law enforcement in a “loan-a-drone” program.

“In one of the first known instances of domestic drone use, in 2011 DHS loaned one of its unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) to police in North Dakota in order to spy on a farmer, Thomas Brossart, who had refused to give back some cows that had wandered onto his property. The Brossart case was the first known drone-aided arrest. The Washington Guardian reports that since then, DHS and Customs and Border Protection (CPB) have deployed drones several other times to help local law enforcement and other federal agencies. The problem with the loan-a-drone program, according to critics, is that it is being operated on an ad-hoc basis with no established regulations for how and when to use them, or how to protect Americans’ privacy, or how to make sure taxpayers are reimbursed for the loaners. After all, CPB’s drones can cost between $15 million and $34 million each to purchase, not to mention their hourly operational costs. Between loan-a-drone and DHS giving out $4 million in grants to help police buy their own drones, good government groups are concerned that homeland security is subsidizing the militarization of local police forces.”

I know here in St. Louis, now that the city is moving to improve police accountability (a good idea, I think) every time they mention it, it makes me wonder if they aren’t amplifying the problem: The say they want to establish “a civilian review board.” But the police are not military. They are civilians too!

American culture is changing rapidly and the Federal Government is encouraging it. Back in the nineties there was, as I remember it, a much greater awareness of the distinction between law enforcement and the military. Now, under Homeland Security, I wonder how many of us are left who view the distinction as important. Whether it is through Federal Weaponization or just a use of terminology, the change is not a good idea.

We need to stop taking “free loans.” The interest our country pays is more than any republic could afford.

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