The Political and Moral Economies of Dual Technology Transfers: Arming Police Drones



This chapter argues that the transfer of military drone technology to civilian uses is more complicated than what is commonly envisioned in the scholarship addressing the militarization of policing. As a consequence of legitimacy problems—stemming from the drone wars—the drone industry is engaging in the strategic mobilization of the moral economy, with the goal of shifting the existing moral landscape. One outcome of such efforts is the emergence of the “public order” drone, whose purposes encompass both firefighting and law enforcement. Focusing on the armed police drone, a subset of the public order drone, the chapter offers an inventory of the moral economy that is at play. In particular, the chapter suggests that the arming of police drones should be thought of as a process, rather than as a one-time technological breakthrough or political decision.


Repurposing Moral economy Technology transfer Innovation talk Actuarial surveillance Switchblade Weaponization 


  1. Aamot, D. (10 March 2014). Recently in controversy: Drone can tase people with 80,000 volts. Time. Accessed 30 Sept 2014.
  2. ABANEWS. (2013). The rise of the drones: Experts discuss legal implications of UAVs in civilian airspace. Accessed 30 Sept 2014.
  3. Ackerman, S. (2014). Tiny, suicidal drone/missile mashup is part of US’ Afghanistan arsenal. Accessed 30 Sept 2014.
  4. ACLU (American Civil Liberties Union). (2011). Protecting privacy. In aerial surveillance: Recommendations for government use of drone aircraft. Accessed 30 Sept 2014.
  5. ACLU. (6 March 2013). ACLU Launches nationwide investigation into police use of military technology & tactics. Accessed 30 Sept 2014.
  6. ACLU. (23 June 2014). War comes home: The excessive militarization of American police—Report. Accessed 30 Sept 2014.
  7. AeroVironment. (2012). Switchblade overview. Accessed 30 Sept 2014.
  8. AeroVironment. (2014). Unmanned aircraft systems overview. Accessed 30 Sept 2014.
  9. AeroVironment. (n.d.a). Qube: Small UAS missions. Accessed 30 Sept 2014.
  10. AeroVironment. (n.d.b). Switchblade. Accessed 30 Sept 2014.
  11. Arnold, T. C. (2001). Rethinking moral economy. American Political Science Review, 95(1), 85–95.Google Scholar
  12. Balko, R. (2013). Rise of the warrior cop: The militarization of America’s police forces. New York: Public Affairs.Google Scholar
  13. Barrie, A. (31 May 2012). Meet the micro-drone tag team assault force. Fox News. Accessed 30 Sept 2014.
  14. Bennett, B. (28 April 2012a). Predators drones have yet to prove their worth on border. Los Angeles Times.
  15. Bennett, B. (5 August 2012b). Drones tested as tools for police and firefighters. Los Angeles Times. Accessed 30 Sept 2014.
  16. Bowman, J. (5 March 2014). Ontario police defend use of drone cameras over protests. CBC News. Accessed 30 Sept 2014.
  17. Braun, M. (18 December 2012). Columbia drone report misses the target. Foreign Policy.Google Scholar
  18. Brustein, J. (2 July 2013). Dear FBI: Keep guns off your drones, please. Yours, Congress. Business Week. Accessed 30 Sept 2014.
  19. Cavallaro, J., & Sonnenberg, S. (2012). Living under drones: Death, injury, and trauma to civilians from US drone practices in Pakistan. Stanford: University and NYU.Google Scholar
  20. CBS News. (16 May 2013). Drones: Eyes in the sky. Accessed 30 Sept 2014.
  21. Crang, M., & Graham, S. (2007). Sentient cities: Ambient intelligence and the politics of urban space. Information. Communication and Society, 10(6), 789–817.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  22. Defense Update. (n.d.). Switchblade—miniature killer drone. Accessed 30 Sept 2014.
  23. DeNicola, L. (2008). Credibility and the use of geospatial media in activism and advocacy. Proceedings of the American Society for Information Science and Technology, 45(1), 1–12.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  24. Der Derian, J. (2009). Virtuous war: Mapping the military—industrial-media-entertainment network. New York: Routledge.Google Scholar
  25. Desert Wolf. (n.d.a). Skunk riot control copter. Accessed 30 Sept 2014.
  26. Detrick, P. (3 December 2013). Reason-Rupe poll: Americans still uncomfortable with cops and drones. Accessed 30 Sept 2014.
  27. Dobuzinskis, A. ( 28 January 2014). US Customs grounds fleet of drones after crash at sea. Reuters. Accessed 30 Sept 2014.
  28. El-Hasan, M. (23 June 2013). Businesses see opportunity in civilian drones, but regulations stand in the way. Los Angeles News Group. Accessed 30 Sept 2014.
  29. Evans, J. (18 January 2014). The techno-militarization of America. TechCrunch. Accessed 30 Sept 2014.
  30. Fisher, D. (March 2 2013). Police use drones to catch criminals. New Zealand Herald. Accessed 30 Sept 2014.
  31. Fox News. (28 January 2014). Predator drone helps convict North Dakota farmer in first case of its kind. Accessed 30 Sept 2014.
  32. Franceschi-Bicchierai, L. (25 July 2012). Russia is stockpiling drones to spy on street protests. Accessed 30 Sept 2014.
  33. Fritsch, S. (2011). Technology and global affairs. International Studies Perspectives, 12(1), 27–45.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  34. Gallagher, R. (2 February 2012). Surveillance drone industry plans PR effort to counter negative image. The Guardian. Accessed 30 Sept 2014.
  35. Gouré, D. (19 October 2011). Unmanned aircraft: Bringing a switchblade to a knife fight. Lexington Institute. Accessed 30 Sept 2014.
  36. Greene, A. (1 March 2014). AFP using drones to investigate major crime as questions raised over privacy. ABC News Australia. Accessed 30 Sept 2014.
  37. Greenwald, G. (12 December 2011). The growing menace of domestic drones. Salon. Accessed 30 Sept 2014.
  38. Gregory, D. (2011). From a view to a kill: Drones and late modern war. Theory, Culture & Society, 28(7–8), 188–215.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  39. Haggerty, K. D., Wilson, D., & Smith, G. J. D. (2011). Theorizing surveillance in crime control. Theoretical Criminology, 15(3), 231–237.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  40. Hall, A. R., & Coyne, C. J. (2013a). The militarization of US domestic policing. Independent Review, 17(4), 485–504.Google Scholar
  41. Hall, A. R., & Coyne, C. J. (2014). The political economy of drones. Defence and Peace Economics, 25(5), 445–460.Google Scholar
  42. Harwood, M. (14 August 2014). One nation under SWAT. Accessed 30 Sept 2014.
  43. Hayes, B., Jones, C., & Toepfer, E. (2014). Eurodrones Inc. London: Transnational Institute and Statewatch.Google Scholar
  44. Hennigan, W. J. (11 June 2012). Pentagon soon to deploy pint-sized but lethal switchblade drones. Los Angeles Times. Acessed 30 Sept 2014.
  45. Hennigan, W. J. (4 April 2013). Drone maker AeroVironment sputters as defense spending dries up. Los Angeles Times. Accessed 30 Sept 2014.
  46. Herrera, G. L. (2003). Technology and international systems. Millennium: Journal of International Studies, 32(3), 559–593.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  47. Holmqvist, C. (2014). Policing wars: On military intervention in the twenty-first century. Houndsmill. Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  48. Huffington Post. (27 March 2014). UK police “Skyranger” drones to patrol skies above Gatwick Airport after major disasters. Accessed 30 Sept 2014.
  49. Johnson, R. ( 24 April 2012). Sorry, this awesome flying submachine gun is a hoax. Business Insider.!CmKqA. Accessed 30 Sept 2014.
  50. Jones, J. H. (30 September 2012). Tiny drones promoted for police use. U-T San Diego. Accessed 30 Sept 2014.
  51. Karstedt, S., & Farrall, S. (2006). The moral economy of everyday crime markets, consumers and citizens. British Journal of Criminology, 46(6), 1011–1036.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  52. (13 February 2013). Drone technology could be coming to a police department near you. Accessed 30 Sept 2014.
  53. Kindynis, T. (14 October 2012). Contours of control, eyes in the sky: The rise of the police drones. Ceasefire. Accessed 30 Sept 2014.
  54. Kraska, P. B. (2007). Militarization and policing—Its relevance to 21st century police. Policing, 1(4), 501–513.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  55. Li, S. (15 August 2014). The evolution of police militarization in Ferguson and beyond. The Wire. Accessed 30 Sept 2014.
  56. Lively, T. (20 March 2012). The Switchblade UAS: Is everyone now a sniper? SOFREP. Accessed 30 Sept 2014.
  57. Lynch, J. (14 January 2014). Customs & border protection loaned predator drones to other agencies 700 times in three years according to “newly discovered” records. Electronic Frontier Foundation. Accessed 30 Sept 2014.
  58. Mass, W. (25 March 2014). CUPID drone has 80,000-volt taser dart. New American. Accessed 30 Sept 2014.
  59. Mau, S. (2004). Welfare regimes and the norms of social exchange. Current Sociology, 52(1), 53–74.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  60. McCarthy, D. R. (2013). Technology and “the International” or: How I learned to stop worrying and love determinism. Millennium: Journal of International Studies, 41(3), 470–490.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  61. McCray, R. (5 March 2012). Tasers no longer a non-lethal alternative for law enforcement. American Civil Liberties Union. Accessed 30 Sept 2014.
  62. McDougal, C. (2013). From the battlefield to domestic airspace: An analysis of the evolving roles and expectations of drone technology. PublicINReview, 1(2), 92–102.Google Scholar
  63. McLeary, P. (7 May 2013a). Special report: Precision strike; US Army expanding soldier attack options. Defense News. Accessed 30 Sept 2014.
  64. McLeary, P. (12 February 2013b). US Army wants more switchblades: Remote-control munitions are small, lethal. Defense News. Accessed 30 Sept 2014.
  65. McLeod, P. (2 January 2014). Nova Scotia RCMP to get drones. Chronicle Herald. Accessed 30 Sept 2014.
  66. McNeal, G. S. (2 March 2013). Just call it a drone. Forbes. Accessed 30 Sept 2014.
  67. MercoPress. (10 September 2012). Rio police begin to use drones to control drugs and crime in the city’s shanty towns. Accessed 30 Sept 2014.
  68. Mick, J. (29 April 2013). US turns to drones to cut cost of “War on Drugs” in the Caribbean. Daily Tech. Accessed 30 Sept 2014.
  69. Monahan, T., & Mokos, J. T. (2013). Crowdsourcing urban surveillance: The development of homeland security markets for environmental sensor networks. Geoforum, 49, 279–288.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  70. Murphy, D. W., & Cycon, J. (1999). Applications for mini VTOL UAV for law enforcement. In enabling technologies for law enforcement and security. International society for optics and photonics. Accessed 30 Sept 2014.
  71. NavalDrones. (n.d.). Switchblade UAS. Accessed 30 Sept 2014.
  72. Neocleous, M. (2013). Air power as police power. Environment and Planning D: Society and Space, 31(4), 578–593.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  73. Neocleous, M. (2014). War power, police power. Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  74. Page, S. (6 September 2013). Weapons: Troops demand more Switchblade. Accessed 30 Sept 2014.
  75. Personal Drones. (3 November 2013). The rise and fall of UK Mereyside police drone. Accessed 30 Sept 2014.
  76. Presutti, C. (25 February 2014). Drones at work worldwide, but US still lacks laws. Voice of America. Accessed 30 Sept 2014.
  77. Rappert, B. (2003). Non-lethal weapons as legitimizing forces? Technology, politics, and the management of conflict. London: Frank Cass.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  78. Rieland, R. (15 October 2012). Drawing the line on drones. Accessed 30 Sept 2014.
  79. Robbins, S. (8 January 2013). Colombia develops UAV technology to fight drugs, rebels, illegal mining. Diáologo. Accessed 30 Sept 2014.
  80. RT. (27 June 2012). Texas college hacks drone in front of DHS. Accessed 30 Sept 2014.
  81. RT. (14 February 2013). Feds: No armed drones in US, but forget about privacy. Accessed 27 Sept 2014.
  82. Salter, M. (2013). Toys for the boys? Drones, pleasure and popular culture in the militarisation of policing. Critical Criminology, 22(2), 167–177.Google Scholar
  83. Sanborn, J. K. (11 September 2012). Marines stand up schools for small UAV training. Defense News. Accessed 30 Sept 2014.
  84. Sandvik, K. B. (forthcoming). Arming police drones: A global perspective (unpublished manuscript on file with author).Google Scholar
  85. Sandvik, K. B., & Jumbert, M. G. (Eds.), (Forthcoming.) The good drone. Surrey: Ashgate Publishing.Google Scholar
  86. Sandvik, K. B., & Lohne, K. (2014). The rise of the humanitarian drone. Millennium: Journal of International Studies, 43(1), 145–164.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  87. Satia, P. (2014). Drones: A history from the British Middle East. Humanity: An International Journal of Human Rights, Humanitarianism, and Development, 5(1), 1–31.Google Scholar
  88. Schechter, E. (14 April 2013). Kamikaze drones: Miniature munitions for dismounted troops. Army Times. Accessed 30 Sept 2014.
  89. Scott, J. C. (1976). The moral economy of the peasant: Rebellion and subsistence in Southeast Asia. New Haven: Yale University Press.Google Scholar
  90. Sengupta, S. (3 July 2013). US border agency allows others to use its drones. New York Times. Accessed 30 Sept 2014.
  91. Sifton, J. (27 February 2012). A Brief History of Drones. The Nation. Accessed 30 Sept 2014.
  92. Smith, R. (2013). AeroVironment reaps $51.4 million in Switchblade UAV contracts in 9 days. sUAS News. 9 September. Accessed 30 Sept 2014.
  93. Smith, D. (20 June 2014). Pepper-spray drone offered to South African mines for strike control. The Guardian. Accessed 30 Sept 2014.
  94. Stanley, J. (8 March 2013). We already have police helicopters, so what’s the big deal over drones? American Civil Liberties Union. Accessed 30 Sept 2014.
  95. Suba, R. (13 March 2014). This CUPID drone doesn’t shoot love arrows—It tases you with 80,000 volts of pure electricity. Tech Times. Accessed 30 Sept 2014.
  96. Tarantola, A. (5 September 2013). America’s kamikaze drone makes the skies way less friendly. Gizmodo. Accessed 30 Sept 2014.
  97. Thalen, M. (22 February 2013). Drone lobbyist makes shocking comment about “indiscriminate killing” policy. Accessed 30 Sept 2014.
  98. Thompson, E. P. (1971). The moral economy of the English Crowd in the eighteenth century. Past & Present: A Journal of Historical Studies, 50, 76–136.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  99. Time. (31 October 2012). Best inventions of the year. Accessed 30 Sept 2014.
  100. Turse, N. (16 January 2012). The crash and burn future of robot warfare. Huffington Post. Accessed 30 Sept 2014.
  101. UAVS (Unmanned Aerial Vehicle Systems) Association. (2014). About UAVS. Accessed 30 Sept 2014.
  102. Ventura County Star. (5 March 2013). Drone maker AeroVironment’s third-quarter earnings fall short. Accessed 30 Sept 2014.
  103. Wall, T. (2013). Unmanning the police manhunt: Vertical security as pacification. Socialist Studies/Études socialistes, 9(2), 32–56.Google Scholar
  104. Wall, T., & Monahan, T. (2011). Surveillance and violence from afar: The politics of drones and liminal security-scapes. Theoretical Criminology, 15(3), 240.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  105. Watson, S. (24 March 2014). Military, police declare interest in taser drone. Accessed 30 Sept 2014.
  106. Wolverton, J. (3 July 2012). Drone group drafts code of conduct citing public relations problem. New American. Accessed 30 Sept 2014.
  107. Wolverton, J. (30 January 2014). Local police adopt military technology and tactics. New American. Accessed 30 Sept 2014.

Copyright information

© Springer International Publishing Switzerland 2016

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Norwegian Centre for Humanitarian StudiesPeace Research Institute Oslo (PRIO)OsloNorway

Personalised recommendations