Grand Forks police to begin regularly using drones this spring

The Grand Forks police department plans to begin regularly using drones this spring.

News of the new drone program comes just days after a Fargo lawyer said he might challenge the legality of law enforcement's use of a drone to make an arrest in rural North Dakota last summer. Six law enforcement agencies in the country currently use drones.

The program will allow Grand Forks police to sub-lease two unweaponized drones from the University of North Dakota's aerospace program for just $1 a year. Police plan to use them for search and rescue, crime scene and traffic photography, and for intelligence-gathering during standoff situations.

Grand Forks Sheriff Bob Rost told the Fargo Inforum that the drones "are going to be used a lot because we are so rural."

"There are areas you can't get into with a car -- this thing can fly over and do whatever it has to do," he added.

Grand Forks police originally intended to lease a manned aircraft, but the cost proved to be too high.

...and a Raven drone.
...and a Raven drone.

With their versatility and maneuverability, drones obviously have the potential to serve as powerful tools for law enforcement. Although Grand Forks police only plan to use them for information-gathering purposes, they can do more -- for instance, last fall a police department in Texas began using ShadowHawk drone that can tase criminal suspects from above. The ShadowHawk also has the potential to be weaponized with mounted shotguns and grenade launchers.

The Draganflyer and Raven B drones available to Grand Forks police won't pack that kind of punch, but privacy advocates are nonetheless worried law enforcement's use of inconspicuous, all-seeing drones is a step down a slippery slope to a panopticon-like police state. 

Ryan Calo, director for privacy and robotics at the Stanford Law School's Center for Internet and Society, told the Los Angeles Times that the surveilling power of drones could potentially make American citizens "uncomfortable."

"Any time you have a tool like that in the hands of law enforcement that makes it easier to do surveillance, they will do more of it," Calo said.

-- Attorney may challenge use of Predator drone during NoDak arrest

Sponsor Content


All-access pass to the top stories, events and offers around town.

  • Top Stories


All-access pass to top stories, events and offers around town.

Sign Up >

No Thanks!

Remind Me Later >