Upping the Ante

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In 1919, the infamous Tommy gun was first manufactured. It was a .45 caliber submachine gun capable of spraying six hundred or more bullets a minute.

The Irish Republican Army bought more than 500 by the next year. During the next decade, it became popular with organized crime in the Prohibition era. The FBI didn’t get them until 1933, the last year of Prohibition and following an attack on federal agents in Kansas City where the perpetrators used the submachine gun.

And the trend toward more firepower and better technology has continued between law enforcement and criminal organizations to this day.

The latest round comes from Texas, where one county is purchasing their own version of a drone, first for surveillance and then, possibly for weapons deployment as well.

The unmanned drones have been a popular asset for our military and customs enforcement (they have eight in service). And, according to the LA Times, the military versions have already seen action in at least one local law enforcement case. In that instance, a North Dakota sheriff requested help to surveil suspects and the military did an overflight.

The drone purchased by Montgomery County is a different type. It doesn’t have the classic delta-wing or stealth capability of the military version. In fact, it’s a helicopter and much cheaper, although by no means cheap. At a half a million dollars (with training and maintenance), it does fall into the budgets of local law enforcement (estimates are $1 per resident in the county). In this case, the county used its federal law enforcement funding.

The drone will be used for more than drug interdiction, but it does illustrate the continuing one upsmanship in the criminal vs. police arms race. The difference may be one of money in the end. The drug dealers and smugglers make money from their tech, our police do not, unless they can seize assets. Taking down a shipment of cocaine doesn’t make the cops a dime. Getting cash, a house or an expensive car, does help offset expenses.

This is the first instance of a drone purchased by a non-federal law enforcement agency. Like the Tommy gun back in the 1930’s, it represents a reaction to increased crime and the challenges of facing a highly motivated, well funded enemy. It is hard to imagine ever going back to the days when police didn’t have body armor and assault rifles in their cars.

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