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Local Law Enforcement’s Use of Predator Drones Increasing

At least two-dozen surveillance flights for police agencies have been reported since June.

A Predator B drone used by the U.S. government to patrol the U.S.-Canadian border was used in June 2011 by a local sheriff’s department to capture a family of fugitives, marking the first time a piece of military hardware was used for local police duties, says a published report.

The drone was used to apprehend the suspects who are all members of the North Dakota family the Brossarts who chased Nelson County Sheriff Kelly Janke off of their 3,000-acre farm at gunpoint, according to the Los Angeles Times. Janke was at the farm to serve a warrant to search for six cows that went missing from a nearby farm, and which later were recovered on the Brossart property.

After being chased off the Brossart farm, Janke sought help from local and regional law enforcement, including the state Highway Patrol, a SWAT team, a bomb squad, sheriffs deputies from three other counties, and the Predator drone from the nearby Grand Forks Air Force Base.

Because the suspects fled into the farm’s interior, the drone was used to track the fugitives, who—thermal imaging showed—were at one point armed with rifles and hiding behind fortifications. After seeing that, Janke recalled the deputies involved with the manhunt until the next morning when drone video showed the suspects to be unarmed. All were captured without any injuries, according to the newspaper.

The use of the Predator drones by local law enforcement agencies has grown since the Nelson County incident, with at least two-dozen surveillance flights for police agencies since June, the newspaper reports.