Government Spending

Texas Sheriff's Dept. Gets Unmanned Aerial Drone, But Don't Worry: "It'll Be Used For Situations We Have With Criminals."


Call now and we'll throw in a free motorized wheelchair

A Houston-area sheriff's office is now the proud owner of an aerial drone, paid for—of course—with $300,000 in federal homeland security grant money.

And by homeland security, they mean "hunting criminals who are running from police," "assessing a scene where SWAT team officers are facing an active shooter," and "criminal investigations such as drug shipments." 

The drone is not currently armed—and the sheriff's office has "no immediate plans" to upgrade—but the manufacturer says the mini-helicopter is designed to be fitted out with weapons of several kinds, including Tazer guns and a bean bag "baton."

Don't worry about your civl liberties, though:

"We're not going to use it to be invading somebody's privacy. It'll be used for situations we have with criminals," [Sheriff Tommy] Gage said

Call now, and we'll throw in a free unmanned aerial drone!

According to promotional claims by manufacturer Vanguard Defense Industries, the ShadowHawk is the drone equivalent of those Medicare-funded motorized wheelchairs you see advertised on TV. ("You won't pay a dime!") Just as with this Texas sheriff's office, a little finagling will pull in a federal grant to cover the whole cost—a process Vanguard is happy to help with.

One last quote about the new "security asset":

Chief Deputy Randy McDaniel said, "I'm tickled to death" about using the drone.

It's funny, see, because death.

Via Radley Balko.


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  1. I’m not even sure privacy is as much of a concern as haphazard, unnecessary, violent deployments.

    1. My biggest problem with this is the federal grant. If the city of Houston wants to purchase this toy using tax money gathered from the residents and visitors to that city, far be it from me to tell them what to do with their money. However, should federal money go toward a local police department’s piece of equipment? I don’t think so.

      1. The city of Houston just told the red light guys to go fly a kite. Given the option of spending Houston money on this thing, I think Houstonians would have flipped off the Sheriff too.

    2. The toy helicopter looks surprisingly identical to one I saw at a mall kiosk last week. How much are the cop versions?

      1. “How much” as in rhetorical, since it was free to them via the feds.

        1. A combustion powered remote control scale model helicopter about that size is maybe in the range of $5,000 including accessories. I would imagine this thing has a radio system with better range, an upgrade I don’t think should be all that expensive. The article mentions computer programmed GPS waypoints which suggests some kind of autopilot-like stability control so the operator doesn’t need the kind of coordination that a scale model pilot does. The imaging equipment is probably pretty normal, only with radio transmission capabilities. I don’t see why this thing should cost more than $20,000. Then maybe some training cost. This helicopter is nothing nearly as complex as something the military would use. $300,000 is definitely a ripoff. This is definitely an example of government fraud and waste.

          1. They make aerodynamically stable toy helicopters that do not require fancy electronic stabilization, like the one I saw in the mall. So knock some more off the price.

    3. Richmond, VA police could have used it while breaking up the OWS camp in Kanawha Park at 1 AM this morning… to like… hold a light or something.

      Too bad. I wanted to see the lawsuit from the Tea Party for a refund of all the fees from when they used the park.

  2. Thanks for giving me ANOTHER reason not to move to TX, Sheriff. Fuck…

    1. I give it 3 months before it crashes somewhere. And 2 months and 29 days until they figure out how to fly it.

      1. I give it less time before someone shoots it down. Texas is a bastion for Second Amendment rights.

        1. They’ll probably claim it was deputized and try the poor bastard for murder, like shooting a police dog.

        2. I was thinking that a local resident doing some target practice with, oh, a .30-06 might work.

  3. This is significantly different from using a police helicopter to track fleeing suspects because. . . . why?

    1. It’s a LITTLE helicopter with a CONTROL stick and shit!

    2. The article mentions the department itself said it is different, because it doesn’t have the capabilities ideal for pursuit. They bought this thing to fly up and over your fence and hover in front of your sliding deck door.

    3. Because this has lower per-hour operating costs than a full-size, human crewed helicopter it means that the Sheriff’s dept can engage in more aerial surveillance for less money. (more police surveillance = less freedom)

      Because this is an unmanned, it’s not subject to the same airspace restrictions (1,000′ over residential neighborhoods, last time I checked) as is a real heli. Current police helis are subject to FAA regulation; this not so much. So they could hover this thing 10′ above your rooftop 24/7 and you’d have no recourse other than to the local govt. (more police surveillance = less freedom)

      Because this is an unmanned craft, no formal training is required for it’s operation. The blades on this thing (probably carbon fiber) could decapitate someone. When (not if) some untrained Barney Fife decaps a citizen the taxpayers will be both morally responsible and on the (more high tech toys for LE = more taxpayer liability for their stupiditity)

      Because this is not FAA licensed, citizenry can disable it with impunity. Interfering at real aircraft – big federal bust. Disabling toy aircraft – nuisance local ordinance violation (theft, vandalism, destroying county property – YMMV). (more potential for humiliating cops = more freedom)

  4. PS $300K for a glorified RC model? They didn’t have any RC modelers on the force or in the town who could have done this for – I don’t know – a coupla grand?

    1. I suppose they have one RC modeler on the force who now lives in a bigger house.

    2. Wait, you think there’s a comparable model priced somewhere between $300K from a defense contractor and $60 from a miscellaneous Korean goods store?

      1. bitches.

      2. The article contains hints that the “defense contractor” is basically a mom and pop style operation.

  5. Hurray!

    Soon, crime will be a thing of the past.

    1. But THEN what will the po po do for JERRRBBZZS!!11!!?

  6. Just like those drones in Half Life 2. Hopefully they’ll explode the same way in real life when I shoot them with a shotgun.

    1. They’ll probably whirl uncontrollably for a few seconds before proving Newton correct once more.

      1. u mean that the earth sucks?

        1. don’t forget the coriolis effect. it’s bigger in texas

    2. Oh I’m sure the legislature will very quickly make it a crime to harm or damage, or attempt to harm or damage, any of these types of things.

      1. I’m sure shooting at government owned stuff is already a crime down here. I’ll call it as Criminal Mischief and since the drone is 300K, it’s a first-degree felony.

        1. What if you just accidentally crash into it with your airswimmer?

        2. What if you just wreck into it with your Airswimmer? (I had linked to airswimmers for wholesale from china, but that link was thought to be spam.)

          1. I’m thinking Estes model rockets. “Ooops, sorry, officers!”

        3. Only if you’re caught

        4. Won’t stop me from poppin it with a paintball marker.

      2. Black plastic netting, of the sort used to keep critters from raiding your goldfish pond, strung up strategically. That shit is invisible in low light and dirt cheap.

        1. I was thinking stringing up some fishing line like they do over patios at restaurants to keep the seagulls away. That stuff is pretty close to invisible even in daylight.

    3. Why not jam it electronically?

      1. Or just throw globs or jelly at it manually?!

  7. But everybody is a criminal now. Convenient!

  8. They didn’t have any RC modelers on the force or in the town who could have done this for – I don’t know – a coupla grand?

    But this is a Government Issue RC copter; it’s liker a NASA-built Trabant.

    1. So, it’s made out of, like, waxy cardboard and runs on an anemic two-stroke motor?


    2. You remember the “road test” of a Trabant in Car and Driver a decade or so ago? (OK, maybe two)

      It caught on fire and shit – AWESOME.

      1. if it wasn’t a PJ ORourke article, it should have been

  9. Sheriff Deputy: Dispatch! We have a “situation” with some “criminals”!

    Dispatch: Do you need the machine that goes “BOING!”?

    Sheriff Deputy: I don’t know! But it couldn’t hurt!

    Dispatch: Sheriff! The Deputy says there’s a “situation” involving “criminals”. Should we send out the machine that goes “BOING!”?

    Sheriff: *gravely* Yes. DO IT!


  10. OW, my balls!

    1. My balls hurt a lot worse when Balko was around

  11. Here’s something that should make you want to hurl: “The armored SWAT truck of the future.”

    Future yes, but available now!

    Fortunately, some of the commenters state how absurd and stupid these vehicles are, as sold to be used in a civilian police force.

    1. civilian police force



      GOT IT???!!!!

    2. even resist a close-range shot from a high-powered rifle (up to 7.62×39 and 5.56×45).

      Alpine must have a different idea of what a ‘high-powered’ rifle is than I do. Get back to me when you can stop 7.62×51 or bigger. I know lots of guys with 7mm Mag deer rifles. I don’t think your pretty shiny uparmored Ford is gonna like those too well.

  12. It’ll be used for situations we have with criminals,” Gage said.

    We’re all Dr. Moffet now.

  13. This is my county and my sheriff. So, at the risk of being labeled an anti-government terrorist, what gun for drone?

    1. You obviously need a .50-caliber, bolt-action rifle. With armor-piercing, exploding, cop-killing bullets, natch.

    2. Based on the picutre, I’d feed it an alka-seltzer and watch it blow up on it’s own.

    3. This is my county
      This is my sheriff
      One is for fighting
      One is for fun

      Sorry – it made me think of that…

    4. Trebuchet. Two iron balls connected by a chain. If you practice enough I think you can get a spinning motion as projectile flies thru the air.

      1. I was actually thinking net launcher of some kind. Bring it down quick, stuff it in a metal box, and hey, free drone!

        1. Net launcher?
          Try a potato cannon and a skein of yarn! Pop it over the top, the rotor sucks it in, and the next thing you know you’re running from a falling plate of spaghetti!

          Please consult you local delinquent. Technical issue may apply.

          1. Local delinquent? I’ve got a potato cannon in the garage.

      2. Don’t need a spinning motion. Just hit it with the chain and the momentum of the ends will take care of the mayhem.

    5. Buck shot should work quite well. Helicopters do not like unbalanced rotors.

    6. So is this going to be used in the City of Houston or only in unincorporated Harris County?

    7. No need for anything fancy, just any suitable 12 ga shotgun loaded with slugs. An ounce or more at about 1500 fps should do the job nicely.

  14. So- if, as has already been suggested, the “suspect” under observation blasts this thing out of the sky, will the charge be Murder of a Police Officer in the Commission of a Crime? They could deputize a monkey and let him ride around in it, just to be sure.

    1. These days, they can make teeny-tiny badges and glue them to deputized cockroaches.

    2. They could deputize a monkey and let him ride around in it, just to be sure.

      I really love this idea, and it fits with existing policy.

    3. So- if, as has already been suggested, the “suspect” perp under observation blasts this thing out of the sky, will the charge be Murder of a Police Officer in the Commission of a Crime?

      Fixed it!

    4. Reminds me of Revelation Space. In that cheery portrait of our future, the cop’s brain was removed from his body and embedded into the drone directly.

      1. I thought they already were doing that, based on some of the YouTube videos I’ve seen.

        1. Well, the brain removal part they have down. Embedding back into something is taking them a little longer…

  15. This is a Halloween prank!


  16. The drone is not currently armed?and the sheriff’s office has “no immediate plans” to upgrade?but the manufacturer says the mini-helicopter is designed to be fitted out with weapons of several kinds, including Tazer guns and a bean bag “baton.”

    Skynet’s been spamming the sheriff with upgrade brochures for weeks now.

  17. Don’t worry about your civl liberties


    A Houston-area sheriff’s office is now the proud owner of an aerial drone, paid for?of course?with $300,000 in federal homeland security grant money.

    Wouldn’t it be easier to just do away with the Posse Comitatus Act that continue with the illusion that it actually restrains military force from being used against the American public?

    1. Well, if you just give the po-po all the same toys, PC becomes an outdated irrelevancy and technically, you’ve done nothing wrong. Plus, you don’t have the nasty rhetoric trying to repeal it would generate.

      Alternatively, just bury repeal of Posse Comitatus deep inside reauthorization of the Patriot Act and nobody will ever notice.

  18. drones don’t have our best interests at heart.

    How could you possibly suggest such a thing?

    1. I dunno. All the escape attempts and strange “accidents” involving drones. . .they’ve made me a little uncomfortable, somehow.

  19. Just like in Bad Company 2, there will be one deputy on the remote, one deputy circling around the first, brandishing his knife at random intervals, and one standing around to load it up with C4 when it returns to the station.

  20. Yes! Yes! Wallow in fear and misery, meat bags. The robot takeover is nigh!


    1. Johnny! We missed you!

  21. Bring it over my house sheriff. I need the target practice.

  22. “hunting criminals who are running from police,” “assessing a scene where SWAT team officers are facing an active shooter,” and “criminal investigations such as drug shipments.”

    One of these things is not like the other…

  23. Blue Thunder becomes reality.

    1. we’re going to need a bigger rotor

  24. This isn’t even in Houston – it’s in sleepy Montgomery County, north of Houston. About the the worst thing that can happen there is getting lost. Here’s the local crime stats for the area – as you can see, it’s a huge magnet for violent crime:

  25. “We’re not going to use it to be invading somebody’s privacy. It’ll be used for situations we have with criminals”

    Good, then you won’t need it until after the trial and conviction.

  26. Real-world experience:…..ersey.html

    This glorified toy will be crashed and/or quietly written-off within a month. But who cares? It was the Feds’ money, right? Must be that stimulus I’ve heard so much about.



  27. I like the idea of a dogfight with a real RC flyer…those guys are good. And I am sure you could outfit one of these with C or D engine model rockets that are packed with gunpowder…man that would be awesome.

  28. Yeah the really stupid thing here is the price tag, I’m not really too concerned that they’re going to usher in 1984 with their little RC machine.

  29. This is Texas. We WILL shoot it down.

    1. Please make sure to record it and post it to Youtube for the rest of us when you do it – thanks!

      1. Bet that would get a lot of hits!

  30. $300,000 seems like a lot of money, until you compare it with the cost of keeping a manned helicopter flying. I honestly don’t see the problem with this.

  31. They lie. I noticed 3-5 of those choppers constantly hovering over my house so I bought a thermal infrared thermometer. I wanted to know whether I’m being watched inside my home. I am. 24/7. The shadowhawk is equipped with infrared cameras which can peer into any structure at will. Beware. Your home is no longer your castle. Our civil liberties have been secretly stolen by the sheriff’s new toy. FYI, aluminum foil reflects infrared rays in case you are camera shy.

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