Thursday, May 31, 2012
Police drones flying over Virginia would be “great” and “the right thing to do” for the same reasons they are so effective in a battlefield environment, the state’s chief executive said Tuesday.

Virginia Gov. Bob McDonnell, a retired U.S. Army lieutenant colonel, says he is open to any technology that makes law enforcement more productive. The use of drones, which was recently endorsed by the police chiefs of Fairfax County and D.C., would make better use of valuable police resources.

Increased safety and reduced manpower are among the reasons the U.S. military and intelligence community use drones on the battlefield, which is why it should be considered in Virginia, he says.

The endorsement follows new drone use in Texas, where civil liberties advocates are already clashing with local police. “Local,” of course, is beginning to lose its meaning. The state’s Montgomery County Sheriff’s Office, for instance, acquired one drone from Vanguard Defense Industries for a cool $300,000 in federal homeland security grant funds. No wonder Washington loves the idea. The federal government has a host of incentives to gradually nationalize police forces, and drones are the perfect vehicle. That’s unsettling enough, but activists with a liberty agenda worry primarily that drones will technologically outstrip constitutional safeguards against unreasonable search and seizure.

Perhaps most disconcerting, however, is that the most valuable purpose of drones is to inflict harm on targets without putting the human who’s operating them at any risk whatsoever. That’s the crucial point that Bob McDonnell’s comfortable claims obscure by casually conflating safety and efficiency. Here’s the logical breakdown: nobody wants to see more police officers getting hurt or killed in the line of duty; yet that doesn’t mean we all ought to do whatever can make police safer. The legitimacy of policing hinges on the moral authority of our shared humanity. If locals can’t meet and interact with their police on a face-to-face level — whether peaceably or in the midst of crimes — then citizens are put into a relationship with the law and the citizens who uphold it that’s too unequal to sustain in a free society...