Proposed bill to address deadly force by drones

In October 2022, Austin police provided drone video from an officer-involved shooting. The shot that was fired in that case did not come from APD's unmanned aircraft, but the video does show how close a drone can get to crime incidents.

Someday, according to UAV experts like Gene Robinson, drones could eventually deploy deadly force.   

"When you take a human out of the chain of command, if you will, or out of the kill chain, as they call it, that makes a lot of people nervous…and rightfully so," Robinson said. "Nobody wants a robot running around with a weapon that could potentially malfunction."

HB 4249 amends state law regarding policies on drone use by state and local authorities. The proposed changes include having specific justifications for deadly force by a drone and requiring the order for deadly force from a drone to be made by the head of the agency that owns it. 

State Representative Eddie Morales (D-District 74) filed the bill and spoke to FOX 7 about why he believes his bill is needed.

"What we learned was that some had very detailed procedures in law enforcement agencies and others did not," Rep Morales said. "This bill aims to clear that up and set up a state standard on when deadly force should be used with the use of a drone."

The current state law was originally passed because an unmanned vehicle was used to kill in Dallas in 2016.  A rolling police robot was used to detonate a device that killed a man who shot several police officers. 

"And so what we learned from that was…this is now the new future," Rep. Morales said. "This is now the new reality. And we probably should be ahead of the game."

Morales’ bill does not address drones deploying less than lethal force, like a taser. Representative Morales said he is open to adding "less-than-lethal" to his legislation.

"Of course, I think that is extremely important, and I'm open to those discussions," said Rep. Morales.

As robotics become more common, Robinson agrees that it is an issue that needs to be addressed. He also believes the less-than-lethal options will be the most pressing.

"I think that's the next logical step to prove that it can be used and used responsibly. We certainly don't want to see something like a hand grenade dropped from a small drone," said Robinson.

That’s already possible. Ukrainian forces just last year used a modified drone to drop a grenade through a sunroof into a vehicle that Russian soldiers were in.

Representative Morales said his drone bill has not yet been given a committee hearing date. A companion bill has been filed in the State Senate by Senator Brian Birdwell.