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Debate Rages Over Proposal To Allow Weaponized Drones For Police In Connecticut

GREENWICH, Conn. (CBSNewYork/AP) -- A debate is raging over police departments deploying weaponized drones as a crime-fighting tool.

As CBS2's Lou Young reported, the Connecticut State Legislature is the weighing whether the state should become the first in the country to allow police to use drones outfitted with deadly weapons.

In 2015, Central Connecticut College student Austin Haughwout made national headlines when he set up a gun-firing drone and posted video of the device in action.

If police began using weaponized drones, they would be far more sophisticated than Haughwout's gun drone rig. They would likely be more like a toned-down version of what has become common in 21st century warfare – flying weaponry that kills.

The sudden proposal has sent shockwaves through the halls of the State Capitol in Hartford.

"I didn't even know this bill was in existence, and for this to go flying, so to speak, through the Judiciary Committee so quickly was a bit of a shock," said state Sen. Scott Franz (R-Greenwich). "The worry about weaponized drones is that there could be abuse. There could be some operator error."

The proposal starts by outlawing airborne weaponry in the hands of civilians, and then moves to establish guidelines, training and warrant requirements for deployment of the machines in the hands of law enforcement.

It is a step no other state has yet taken.

"It's not necessarily unconstitutional, but as a matter of policy -- if this were allowed -- one would want, again, very strict regulation," said Pace University Law School Professor Thomas McDonnell.

Supporters of the idea point to the shooting that killed five police officers Dallas last summer. The gunman was killed by a robot carrying a bomb, and supporters say having the device fly to its target would not have made much of a difference.

"We're pretty close to Robocop anyways," said retired police Officer Robert Kornfeld. "I think it's going to come. I think it's going to happen."

"It's a very effective way to stop a crisis situation like that, but it's a big leap forward," added Sen. Franz.

But civil libertarians are expressing alarm.

"We're not in warfare here," said David McGuire, executive director of the American Civil Liberties Union in Connecticut.

McGuire told WCBS 880's Mike Smeltz on Thursday that the main problem is that attaching deadly weapons or riot deterrents such as tear gas to drones would make it much easier for a police officer to use force.

"There's a level of separation that makes it almost video game like where they're detached from the actual situation," he said.

On the street, CBS2's Young picked up a desire for extreme caution.

"I'm sure it has some possible pros, but I think it needs a lot more discussion," said Karen Hirsh of Greenwich.

The full state Senate will consider the measure in mid-May.

North Dakota is the only state that allows police to use weaponized drones, but limits the use to "less lethal'' weapons such as stun guns.

(© Copyright 2017 The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.)

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