Last year, Sheriff Tommy Gage of Montgomery County, Texas, was eager to show off his new surveillance toy. Having obtained a $300,000 Homeland Security grant from the federal government, his office had become the first police agency in the nation to have its very own drone, a pilotless aircraft to monitor and, yes, spy on people.
This beauty came with the deluxe eye-in-the-sky package, including infrared detection equipment and a power zoom camera. Filled with pride, the sheriff summoned the media to a big photo-op last March to witness him and the drone strutting their stuff. To add drama to this show of police power, Gage also had his SWAT team attend in full riot regalia, positioning them in their “Bearcat,” an armored vehicle.
The ground controller launched the pilotless aircraft as the sheriff beamed — but the demonstration went horribly wrong. Coming in for a landing, the high-tech marvel suddenly went on the fritz, losing contact with the controller. Not only did it crash in front of the startled media — but even more startling to Sheriff Gage, it crashed right into his SWAT squad’s Bearcat.
Luckily, the armored vehicle held up, so none of the SWAT teamers were injured. But what a show! For one thing, the photo-op showed that if the American people don’t stop the reckless rush by the police-industrial complex to deploy thousands of domestic drones in the next few years, all of us had better be shopping for Bearcats to drive.
Oh, in case you’re also concerned that these spy machines will crash into our Constitution and be used to invade our privacy rights, Sheriff Gage says not to worry.
“No matter what we do in law enforcement, somebody’s going to question it,” grumps the Lone Star sheriff, “but we’re going to do the right thing, and I can assure you of that.”
Hmmm. How assured does that make you feel?