SF Bay Guardian & The Daily Caller & Associated Press – 2013-09-27 02:05:36
SFSU Police Get Tasers
Joe Fitzgerald Rodriguez / Bay Guardian
SAN FRANCISCO (September 24, 2013) — Just because the San Francisco Police Department can’t get Tasers doesn’t mean all the cops in San Francisco are missing out.
The San Francisco State University Police Department will soon arm its officers with conducted electrical weapons, known by the brand name Taser, following a statewide push from the California State University Chancellor’s Office to arm all of its campus police statewide with the weapons.
The university police started training with their new weapons Sept. 12, according to university spokesperson Ellen Griffin, but haven’t armed its 28 officers with them just yet. The department still has to set rules for their use and the cabinet of SF State President Leslie Wong will soon meet to advise him on Taser policy. Details on what shape that policy will take are still hazy, the university told us.
“What I can say is that Dr. Wong is deeply committed to protecting the safety and welfare of our campus community,” said Shawn Whalen, a member of the president’s cabinet.
For the past decade the SFPD has tried at various times to have their officers armed with Tasers but have met loud opposition and are without them to this day. One of the most vocal opponents of the weapons, Police Commissioner Angela Chan, is concerned that the Tasers can be fatal.
“Tasers can cause serious injury or death and have cost law enforcement that use them millions of dollars in lawsuits,” she told the Guardian. About 500 people having been killed by Tasers in the US since 2001 according to a report Amnesty International released last year.
Of those killed, Amnesty International said, 90 percent of the victims were unarmed. Despite the statistics, Tasers are in widespread use around the country and in the California State University system.
Mike Uhlenkamp, spokesperson for the CSU chancellor’s office, said that 17 campus police forces were armed with Tasers, and now all 23 will have them, including SF State.
The arguments Taser advocates make for having the weapons is that they can be used in lieu of a gun. Steve Tuttle, spokesperson for Taser, said that was the reason 17,000 law enforcement agencies use Tasers worldwide.
“I think it’s a loud minority that’s gotten their way in San Francisco,” Tuttle said. The idea that SFPD is the lone holdout had him saying that the “vocal minority” got their way.
But Chan said that’s a myth. Tasers are often used as a compliance weapon when an individual is passively resisting arrest or not responding to an officer’s commands, she said. “Unfortunately, this can lead to overuse and unnecessary use, especially on young people and people of color, as we’ve seen around the country, including on college campuses.”
She has reason to be concerned about the safety of the campus community. When activist squatters were arrested in May by the SF State’s university police, allegations of excessive force streamed in.
The activists printed a zine documenting their experience. Melissa Nahlen, 25, reportedly wound up with “cuts near her eyes, a bruised and swollen lip, a swollen left hand … and cannot bend her neck downward due to being stomped on by the police.”
A campus police officer also sustained injuries, according to news reports.
Tasers are used to avoid just that kind of situation, Training Lieutenant Randall Gregson of the BART Police Department told us. Though policies differ from department to department, Gregson ran the Guardian through BART’s tactics in using Tasers to provide a glimpse in the things SFSU will need to consider.
BART police carry their Tasers on the “support” side of the belt, meaning the non-dominant side, he said. They also have a choice of carrying it in their duty belt on a thigh holster. “It’s an officer’s individual preference,” he said.
That preference is important, and sometimes could mean the difference between life and death.
The Cops at Ohio State Have
An Armored Fighting Vehicle Now
Eric Owens / The Daily Caller
(September 17, 2013) — The Ohio State University Department of Public Safety has acquired an armored military vehicle that looks like it belongs in Iraq or Afghanistan.
Gary Lewis, a senior director of media relations at OSU, told The Daily Caller via email that the “unique, special-purpose vehicle is a replacement” for the “police fleet.” He called the armored jalopy “an all-hazard, all-purpose, public safety-response vehicle” with “obviously enhanced capabilities.”
Lewis did not specify exactly what previous mode of transport was replace
He noted that the vehicle was “acquired at no cost from Military Surplus.” He also bragged that it has “extremely low miles and is in nearly new condition” but elaborated no further concerning the acquisition.
“We are in the process of making it usable for our needs in an urban campus environment,” Lewis explained. “Specifically we are removing the top turret and repainting.”
Lewis also noted that OSU’s campus cops are “the first agency in the state to acquire such a vehicle” — presumably ahead of less vital departments such as the Ohio Emergency Management Agency. He did not provide the make and model of the vehicle despite The DC‘s specific request.
The vehicle looks like an MRAP, which is the general name for an armored fighting vehicle designed to survive ambushes and improvised explosive device (IED) attacks. Lewis mentioned nothing about IEDs or ambushes in his email to TheDC. Instead, the school envisions a number of uses for the vehicle including “officer rescue,” “hostage scenarios,” “bomb evaluation” and active killers loose on campus.
The vehicle also boasts a “sniper perch” and it is ideal “for crew protection under threat of explosives and small arms fire.”
“Disaster deployment” is another possible use because the vehicle can function under all kinds of extreme weather conditions including blizzards and floods up to 36 inches. The “multi-purpose” onboard winch is also a plus.
Several attempts to extract information from the OSU Police Division proved fruitless. No one who will presumably be using the vehicle wanted to answer questions about it, nor would anyone say if any of these scenarios has actually occurred on campus in recent (or non-recent) years.
Florida College to Offer Masters Degree in Drone Warfare
(September 19, 2013) — Secured inside a room you need a US passport to enter is a modern arcade of war machines.
‘It looks like a gamer’s paradise: A comfortable tan leather captain’s chair sits behind four computer monitors, an airplane joystick with a red “fire” button, a keyboard and throttle control.
The games here have great implications. Across the world, a $20 million Gray Eagle drone armed with four Hellfire missiles, ready to make a sortie into hostile territory is taking commands from a workstation like this one. A graduate from this room on the campus of Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University in Daytona Beach could be in that other room in as little as six months with a master’s degree in drone warfare, his hand on the joystick, making $150,000 a year.
Welcome to the new basic training, where the skills to fight the War of Tomorrow are taught in private classrooms today. Embry-Riddle this fall became the first in the country to offer post graduate education in this field.
“We’re trying to prepare our students so they’re ready to operate at the highest levels,” said Dan Macchiarella, department chair of aeronautical sciences at Embry-Riddle.
But as with so many things that begin with a military purpose, these unmanned vehicles are coming in all shapes and sizes — from full-sized planes to mini helicopters less than 2 feet across — to play a role in the civilian world.
They are used by law enforcement to patrol the borders, to nab shark-fin poachers off the Galapagos Islands, to hover above the trees and count populations of endangered birds. The University of Florida built its own drone to monitor wildlife.
There are storm-chasing drones. Fire-fighting drones. Drones to report real-time traffic. Congress has ordered the FAA to issue new regulations for this impending civilian army of unmanned vehicles.
Look up in the sky: The drones are coming.
“It’s going to grow exponentially once the law catches up,” said Josh Olds, an Embry-Riddle graduate and drone flight instructor at Embry-Riddle who worked with government contractors overseas before returning to help run the school’s flight simulation lab.
The government budget for drone warfare has gone from a relatively paltry $667 million in 2002 to more than $3.9 billion, according to a Congressional Research Service report . And the number of drones in military service has shot from 167 to nearly 7,500 — and climbing.
Where there is a new skill to learn, there is soon a teacher.
Some will simply enlist in the military to train in piloting drones. For the civilians, there is now college.
In 2011, the University of North Dakota was the first to graduate a class — of five students — with a bachelor of science in unmanned systems. In May, Kansas State awarded its first diploma.
Embry-Riddle had hoped to attract 200 students within the first five years of the program. Just three semesters in, they have 120 students. Now, they expect they’ll have to limit their enrollment to 500 students a year.
“It’s taking off like a rocket,” Macchiarella said. “We had students go through the program as fast as they could to get out there.”
Already, through its ROTC program, Embry-Riddle graduates more pilot cadets than any other institution outside the military academies. Of its 5,000 students, about a quarter are involved with the ROTC program. Most have financial aid to offset the $30,000 annual tuition.
The nature of this fly-by-computer-screen technology attracts the young gamer-type, Macchiarella said — much different from the soldiers of his generation, when he retired as an Army lieutenant colonel.
But he saw the change coming as he worked in the battle labs where the military flew some of the first advanced unmanned aircrafts, the so-called Hunter UAV spy planes with 29-foot wingspans.
“My generation grew up with Vietnam on TV,” said Macchiarella, who flew Apache helicopters. “But this spins off from gaming. Just look at it. It looks like gaming.”
In an economy hungry for jobs, students are going where the work is. And right now, drones are hot.
“I didn’t get into flying airplanes to do this, but I fell into it because it was lucrative,” said John Bounds, a 2006 Embry-Riddle graduate who manages the Unmanned Aerial Vehicle flight lab and serves as a flight instructor. “The salary this offered was competitive with what I could make as a pilot with 15 years experience.”
Two years out of school, Bounds was hired by a government contractor, General Dynamic Information Technology, to train civilians and soldiers to fly drones at Libby Army Airfield in Fort Huachuca, Ariz.
Bounds was hired specifically because of his experience with General Atomics MQ-1C Gray Eagle, a $21.5 million turbo-diesel unmanned plane with a 56-foot wingspan, which can carry four Hellfires or eight stinger missiles, fly at 170 mph, up to 29,000 feet and 30 hours straight.
“Privates straight out of basic training, we trained them on the system, then they deployed,” Bounds said.
Along with the ubiquitous Predator, it is the among the most popular drone used by the military. Embry-Riddle is looking into purchasing a Gray Eagle for training, which would take off from the adjacent Daytona Beach International Airport, Bounds said.
At Embry-Riddle, there are two tracks for students interested in drones: one to build and one to fly.
On a recent blustery Monday, a remote-controlled boat shaped like a floating box braved the choppy waters in the expansive fountain outside the Embry-Riddle president’s office, when a 2-foot-wide helicopter with four blades — a “quad copter” — lifted off from the back of the boat.
Will Shaler, 21, kept it aloft via remote control and landed it back safely — and dry. Soon, these two remote-controlled systems will work in tandem, and completely autonomously, to complete a task laid out in a contest sponsored by a government contractor.
The goal is to make drones that execute particular tasks, from mowing the lawn at the neighboring airport at night to a tiny one that can hover through a window, steal a thumb-drive off a desk and replace it with a phony before making its escape.
And for this, they rely on students like Shaler to design them.
“Nobody’s going to be buying manned fighter planes in a few years,” said Shaler, a mechanical engineering senior who wants to work in drone robotics.
“We feel UAVs are an integral part of the future of aviation,” Embry-Riddle President John Johnson said, coming out to watch the robotics students maneuvering outside his office.
But right now, there’s a catch with UAVs: No one can legally use the airspace to fly unmanned aircraft for profit.
The industry is waiting for the FAA to expand the usable US airspace for drones. The regulations now were designed for hobbyists flying remote-controlled airplanes and helicopters under 400 feet.
There are only a handful of exceptions for private entities doing research and development, and flight training or demonstrations. The FAA grants a Certificate of Authorization, which permits a limited area for a particular aircraft. But only 327 are approved in the country at last count, in February.
“Right now, it’s kind of in the â€˜Wild West’ stage,” Macchiarella said. And of course, there are concerns over privacy.
This year, Florida passed a law that bars local law enforcement from using drones without a warrant, unless there’s the threat of a terrorist attack, and says the information can’t be used as evidence in court. (Three Florida law enforcement agencies — Miami-Dade police, and Orange and Polk counties sheriff’s offices — are authorized to use drones.)
“There’s an industry that wants to sell hundreds and thousands of these drones all over the country, and before they’re up in the sky, I thought it was a good idea to say, here are the rules in Florida,” Florida Sen. Joe Negron, who sponsored the bill, told the Miami Herald in April.
The days of unmanned vehicles whizzing overhead are drawing near.
The war games are coming home.
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