The manhunt for alleged cop killer and former LAPD officer Christopher Dorner has taken several hard turns in just one week. After the murder of a former police chief ’s daughter and her fiance, ambushed policemen, with one killed and promises of further bloodshed, tensions were running high as the LAPD ruthlessly attacked two women delivering newspapers while driving a blue Toyota Tocoma pickup truck that “matched” the description of Dorner in his gray Nissan Titan. At about the same time, a few miles away they also attacked another civilian [Caucasian this time], who was fired upon and his truck rammed.
Dorner’s truck was eventually found burned in Big Bear, eighty miles east of LA, which ended the threat to anyone driving a pickup truck but moved the manhunt to the mountainous area. Then it snowed…a lot. The risk to officers tracking Dorner in the mountains in such conditions would be arduous at best…and with a person trained in survival and weapons being tracked, the danger only escalates.
“We are using all the tools at our disposal,” was the first clue that drones would be used when Riverside Police Chief, Sergio Diaz, pointed to his available resources. The U.S. Customs and Border Patrol had been listed as part of the task force put in motion to catch Dorner. And the Customs and Border Patrol use drones. Often.
This case is not the first time drones will have been used in police work. In June 2011, in North Dakota a county sheriff was hunting three men, possibly armed, in connection with missing cows. With so much land to cover, he called in a favor at Grand Forks Air Force Base and “borrowed” one of their drones. It was the first time a Predator had been involved in the arrest of U.S. citizens, and the use of the drone has been ruled admissible. Also, Mesa County Colorado has been using them to map crime scenes, to forward-observe police raids, and to hunt for lost hikers.
Drones have, over the past few years, received a bad reputation; in war zones they have been used in place of manned aircraft to scout, observe and to take out targets, including many top level Al Qaeda operatives. The controversy went to 11 with a Department of Justice white paper that, if you only read the blogsphere headlines, would suggest that President Obama okayed drone attacks on U.S. citizens…ANY U.S. citizen. That was just political spin…the reality was much more specific and narrow. The white paper set forth the legal framework for lethal operations directed against a U.S. citizen who is a senior operational leader of Al Qaeda or an associated force. In other words…if a U.S. citizen went rogue and joined Al Qaeda on foreign soil to harm America…THEN he would be a potential target. “Bob” in Cincinnati, who spends his time railing against America on the Internet doesn’t have anything to worry about.
And back to drones. We think of drones as the most visible of the unmanned aerial vehicles [UAV] – the Predator or Reaper drones, laden with a pair of Hellfire air-to-ground missiles which have 20 pounds of explosives. But drones are much more than that. They are everything from handheld remote control airplanes with a camera on them, to the 130-ft. wingspan Global Hawk, a research craft that can fly, by itself, from Edwards Air Force Base in California to Australia with no refueling, no pilot inputs.
What the drones possess that is relevant to the Christopher Dorner manhunt is the sensor package…the eyes aboard the drones. The Gorgon Stare sensor package is one such tool. It can surveil an area 2½ miles across from 12 angles at once; its field of view swallows entire cities. ARGUS is another sensor platform that can pick out an object 6 in. long from 20,000 ft.
Specifically to the Dorner manhunt, drones, likely the Predator drones WITHOUT weapons, will fly the area where Dorner is thought to be. They can quickly narrow down which vacation homes have warm bodies in them with their infrared sensors, they can sweep vast areas and look for anomalies, no different than looking for lost Boy Scouts…seeing people where they aren’t expected. And, unlike helicopters that normally do this, the drones can see through clouds, at night, loitering up to 40 hours without having to land.
Drones will become more and more of a common feature of law enforcement. They will do the jobs that pilots in helicopters do now, that pilots in fixed wing aircraft do now. Loiter and observe…but with one difference. Drones can carry sophisticated equipment that does things people can’t; see in spectra that people can’t. And everything they do is controlled by humans, so the fear that “machines” are taking over is flawed…they enhance human intelligence gathering. No more or less.