“Mexico’s Secretariat of the Navy said federal security forces killed Beltrán-Leyva cartel regional leader Juan Francisco Patrón and seven others during a shootout,” UPI.com reports. And how! The video above shows an American-made Apache helicopter doing what an American taxpayer funded helicopter can do: re-aligning the profit-sharing arrangement between Mexico’s drug cartels and the federales by force of arms.

Here in the U.S., Texas had some issues with the whole death from above thing in 2012, when a DPS sniper took out an unarmed illegal immigrant in a fleeing pickup (video here). That didn’t stop an Austin police SWAT sniper from shooting and killing a perp from a whirlybird in 2015. Meanwhile, the Lone Star State has been eyeing armed drones (tear gas and rubber bullets) for quite some time.

What’s your take on this? Should cops be prohibited from firing on civilians from the skies? Should armed choppers and drones be restricted to less lethal ballistic solutions? Does it make a difference whether the platform is manned or unmanned?

75 Responses to Question of the Day: OK to Shoot Bad Guys From a Helicopter? Drone?

  1. My first thought, the rate of fire was way to high to have been an Apache.. more like a mini-gun out the side door of a Blackhawk.

    • I agree, that’s a Blackhawk with a mini-gun, Apache’s don’t have spot lights to my knowledge.

      As for if police should use helicopters/drones… All I care about is that it’s justified and you hit the target only.

      • “I’m getting pretty good at this.” (A reputed Obama quote when a drone strike took someone out in the Mid East.)

        You have to admit, with the spotlight and tracers, walking in the death hose of lead, HEI, and maybe depleted uranium slugs was so easy, even a ‘Federale’ goon could do it…

      • +1…. justifiable use of deadly force is all that matters. Anybody who argues otherwise sounds like someone arguing that an AR15 is too lethal for civilians to have or shooting a person with a 12ga slug is unnecessary over kill….. we can change what constitutes the necessary use of deadly force, reasonablness, what a percieved threat means, etc….. but, controlling the method of deadly force is the work of gun grabbers.

        • Apples and oranges…NO…From a Libertarian, or Constitutionalist perspective…We already have a enough issues with the paramilitarizied police community in regards to police brutality, corruption, politics, civil liberties, and high incidents of civilian shooting deaths in many states with near zero accountability…We’re talking serious “carve-outs” here…If they can use on a ” Perp” who’s got rights, and is innocent till proven guilty in a court of law”…Then by that token, the “method” could be used on say “Armed OPEN Carry citizens”, or maybe some form of anti 2nd amendment attack…I’m sure there are a lot of leftist totalitarian police departments(re:NJ, CT.,NY, MA., MD.,CA.) that would be “com!#®” in their BDU’s to light up a few dozen civilians complaining about their damn rights! I could see a “Blade Runner esque” WACO TX thing on a more Scifi Dystopic scale….

  2. Military uses drones to take out known terrorists in Middle East. Helicopters to take out know cartel members in Mexico and entering the U.S? I have no problem with it.

  3. I have absolutely no problem with targeting criminals from the air. Anything that gives law enforcement the advantage over scumbags with a minimum risk to themselves. Now, that being said, the targets had better BE criminals worthy of being targeted in such a manner, and not another Randy Weaver. Illegal border jumpers and drug kingpins, OTOH…

    • Is that in the US our outside. If in the US is that on a warrant or after a conviction? Or crime in process? Collateral damage can be a bitch.

      In the US – it is a bit like cops with their traffic ticket cams. If too damn lazy to set up a speed trap the requires putting the donut down and getting out of the car to write a ticket then to hell with the entire thing (let the natural flow of traffic establish the speed, works fine). If too lazy to go pickup the skull (who they apparently know the location of) then why are the lazy popo needed? Replace them.

    • The criteria that define Justifiable Homicide is pretty clear no matter where the shooter is standing or sitting at the time, so a helicopter kill is as good as a ground one IMHO.
      My beef is with drone kills: the day is coming soon where we’ll all be debating the shooting of an unarmed civilian with a drone and the operator who pulled the trigger (pressed the button?) will try to blame a software or hardware glitch for what was in actuality a cold-blooded murder. Naturally, the killers department and supervisors will have his back or they might risk losing their neat electronic toys.
      Mark my words, that scenario is coming.

    • I have a problem with killing a perp who is posing no direct danger to somebody, be it a civilian or police.
      Even a fleeing perp isn’t fair game.
      Why would it be OK to kill a Mexican drug kingpin on sight just because he happens to be seen in the US? Does who he is somehow negate our constitution?

      Now, that said, if we have an active shooter in a campus tower, using a chopper or drone to negate the threat seems OK to me. It’s an entirely different scenario.

      Reading some of the responses here makes me think some people aren’t thinking this through very well. We are a nation of laws. When we find a drug house, we don’t go in guns blazing; we only fire when a direct threat is seen. There’s a reason for that: Due process, and all that other pesky stuff.

  4. In before Serge with a resounding yes. But actually, things work out just fine here without firing on suspects out of a helicopter. The level of acceptable collateral damage is much lower in the US than Mexico. Which is a good thing.

      • I always look forward to your answers Serge.

        Could you imagine the Boston area LEO’s with helicopter-borne firearms during the pursuit of the two pressure cooker potheads? Whole neighborhoods would have been leveled.

        • Which is one of the reasons I think the Boston situation should have been handled differently. Declaring martial law (which, let’s be honest, they more or less did) is not an appropriate response to a single terrorist attack. That being said, there is a time and a place when the gloves need to come off. The CotUS was never meant as a shield for foreign insurgents on US soil. This is one of the reasons why I think the 9th circus needs to be dragged out into the street and flogged. They applied constitutional protections to people who are not on US soil.

        • John: “You imply that that would be a bad thing. . .”

          It is as bad as any other country applying their laws to you, while you’re in AK.
          You certainly wouldn’t like that.

  5. 1. I’m with Grendel and am getting ready with the popcorn!
    2. Sometimes in rare circumstances it is necessary to use either airborne or unmanned units to deliver fight ending items (didn’t Dallas PD do that with and EOD robot not so long ago?).

  6. Where the shooting is coming from is way down the list of important considerations. Who is shooting? Why? Are they being shot AT? Lots of more important questions. Then there is the little problem of who is responsible for what, when… and how anyone will know afterwards. Have police anywhere demonstrated a high level of accepting responsibility for their actions and choices? Why should they be trusted with this?

  7. Drones and helicopters should only be used for release of precision guided safety blankets, coloring books and puppies into hostile safe spaces.

  8. Only if the response is proportional to the offense committed- if someone is on a rampage and endangering innocent life, or they are known for a fact to be a member of a cartel or something, sure. If they are not actively endangering others, then it would sure seem to be a violation of the Constitution, specifically the right to a trial be their peers.

    • The CotUS does not apply outside the US. Claiming otherwise is allowing the absurdity of Osama Bin Laden suing the Bush administration on due process grounds. Once your actions escalate from petty criminal activity to the level of insurgency and warfare, you have waived any protections you might claim as a member of the society you are fighting against.

      • I was referring specifically to the original question under the assumption that it was asking if US police should use drones and helicopters I’m this fashion on American soil. I guess that was not clear, and I apologize. Obviously the Constitution has no bearing outside of US territory and doesn’t apply to the specific case mentioned.

        • Depends who you’re fighting. Regular petty criminals? No. An organized and well equipped narco-terrorist insurgency? It’s time to break out the National Guard and keep shelling them until the rubble makes it into orbit.

          If Mexico had the same constitution as the United States, I would still see not problem with what happened here. The narcos are not regular criminals. They are an organized insurgency against the legitimate democratically elected government of Mexico. (Much as we may despise what passes for democracy in Mexico.) That means that they are not entitled to the protections provided to run of the mill criminals. I would point out that there were no constitutional issues with Washington putting down the Whiskey Rebellion using federal troops as at that point, the issue had risen well beyond the scope that could be handled by law enforcement authorities.

    • Drew: “…or they are known for a fact to be a member of a cartel or something…”

      Does being a known drug cartel member mean they are fair game?
      Hint: No.
      I don’t understand why so few understand “due process.” Just because someone is a scumbag, the worst of the worst, doesn’t mean you get to shoot them on sight.
      We really ARE better than that.

      • So… by your logic, the SEALs should have arrested Osama Bin Laden rather than shooting him in the face. Once your actions have risen to the level of open warfare against your government, (and yes, the Mexican cartels crossed that line years ago) it is no longer a legal issue, it is a military issue. Enemy combatants do not get due process protections.

  9. A heavily armed squad of cartel goons? You’re going to have to kill them no matter what, might as well be expedient. Regular criminals? Not so much. Besides, how many departments could afford to field a gunship? As for a sniper platform, I don’t see how that’s any different than a normal engagement. Armed drones on US soil? No fucking way.

  10. If you are sure of your target and what is beyond – why does the shooting platform matter?

    If it makes police more efficient and effective – then my answer is a resounding yes.

  11. There should be strong and clearly worded rules governing police use of lethal force, and these must include serious penalties for violators. It makes no difference whether the shooter is on the ground or in the air or in a drone control setup.

    Also, those rules need to be publicly available so everybody knows just what those rules are. I’m angered by the common claim after a shooting that the police “followed procedure” but those procedures are kept hidden from the public, as are the internal review details.

  12. The pictures I saw of the bodies of cartel members supposedly killed in this firefight showed zero other impact damage anywhere nearby. Something does not add up. I would have expected at least a few marks on the sidewalk or nearby wall from a minigun…..

  13. Taking out any enemy using any means or platforms available is not an issue.
    Target and threat identification on the other hand is an issue.
    The right target may bring fame but will be forgotten well the wrong one makes you infamous and is seldom forgotten.

  14. Oh, and I’m not familiar enough to know what the Mexican constitution says about such things. I seem to remember a little place called Waco where the government came in with superior firepower and it didn’t end so well. While Waco could have possibly been avoided by waiting longer or not attempting an assault in the first place in Mexico when dealing with cartels time is of the essence because reinforcements can often be called in that can outgun the police and federales and that actually may include the police and federales. It’s only a matter of time before they start flinging rpg’s at the helicopters..

  15. Law enforcement fights in two dimensions, by adding armed air it now becomes three-dimensional. Air changes cartels decision-making process knowing when applied, they die. Cartels are ruthless, without morals and hold a corrupt politicians from positive development. I see no limitation other than shooting innocent Mexican citizens trying to protect themselves.

    Worse than shooting cartels from the air, the Mexican President instructs illegals not to come back to Mexico and keep sending remittances. The Mexican Treasury Secretary resigned when Trump won, he knows once the remittances are taxed for the wall, Mexico is done. The country is on the brink of failure.

    https://theconservativetreehouse.com/2017/02/11/mexican-president-nieto-seeks-to-protect-mexicans-from-a-life-in-mexico/

  16. The cop killer forted up in the parking garage in Texas got taken down by a robot with a bomb. I got no problem with that. Drones and robots should be an option after the bad guy has proven himself to be a threat. After.

    Swat teams should only be rolled out after uniformed cops have hit a brick wall.

  17. No one should be shooting from a helicopter at another human being unless they are using legally justified deadly force in response to a credible, imminent threat of death or grievous bodily harm.

    I oppose using drones to shoot criminals in the U.S. There are too many variables that separate the drone operator too far from the constantly evolving circumstances on the ground.

    • “No one should be shooting from a helicopter at another human being unless they are using legally justified deadly force in response to a credible, imminent threat of death or grievous bodily harm.”

      FTFY

      The platform or vessel is irrelevant.

  18. It depends entirely on the circumstances. You can’t say “it’s never ok” or “it’s always ok”. It’s easy to imagine plausible scenarios where authorities should be allowed to take the shot, and probably easier to imagine other scenarios where they shouldn’t. Argue the individual occurrences and remember to factor in both the controversial with the justified.

  19. The same rules of engagement should apply to terrestrial and aerial engagements. In other words, if you shouldn’t be shooting at them from the ground, you shouldn’t be shooting at them from the air.

    Unarmed illegals should not be shot at. Armed psychos are fair game.

  20. Allowing them to shoot at lawbreakers will just make all of us into lawbreakers. Especially when they do so by remote control. How long before the operator claims that someone else took control with some kind of overriding tech?
    When death can come from the sky, we need someone to take the responsability for that action.
    Doing this outside of US borders is for the U.N. to figure out, but inside our borders, I feel that it is not something LE should be doing.

  21. Just yesterday, TTAG posted this from Borderland Beat:

    http://www.thetruthaboutguns.com/2017/02/robert-farago/guerrero-cops-sit-out-narco-kidnapping-invasion-this-is-what-happens-to-a-disarmed-populace/

    Yeah, I don’t care how the Mexicans punish the cartels who don’t make their payoffs to the Federales or are not part of the government-favored cartel du jour. They can nuke ’em from space as far as I’m concerned.

    Here in the good ol’ USA, as long as it’s a “good shoot,” I don’t care what the cops use on the bad guys.

  22. Absolutely. Does somebody think this is some manner of big game hunting, with rules and ethics? If you would be justified shooting the SOB face-to-face, then wax his ass from hiding, nuke him from orbit, whatever. Video would have been more fun with 20mm.

  23. Nope. The Supremes have placed good limits on the limited circumstances under which LEOs may fire on a fleeing suspect. No reason to loosen those.

    This shooting from choppers will just induce laziness and fudging. It is remarkably difficult to know who you are shooting at from even 50 feet up, except with hot and unbroken pursuit over level and clear ground.

    I vote that LEO snipers who require a chopper ride to the scene must either fast-rope in and set up, rappel in, else be put on the ground or rooftop via “short-haul long-line external cargo” techniques. Oh, and video must be turned on…..

    As for the difficulty of identification, I had lots of experience with this bit long ago.

    • SCOTUS has placed rules on when the police may use deadly force but have consistently not cared about the method of that deadly force- gun, car, spikestrips, etc- if the threat falls within the legal range.

      There’s no coherent legal argument for why shooting someone from the elevated platform of a helicopter is any different than shooting them from a roof ten feet away.

      • H, I did so much shooting from a helicopter in war that I am biased against it for use in peace. I think the unsteadiness of the platform (even for the best of choppers), the likely greater distance, the difficulty of focusing the eyes on a ground target for facial recognition….argue against the thing. I may, of course, be wrong.

        Put another way, at what distance and elevation should we stop accepting “I thought he had a gun in his hand” as a justification for killing a suspect? I’m open to a discussion on that. I have no doubt, however, that a skilled shooter can hit what they perceive to be a justified target from a helicopter. I am not at all sure that they can correctly determine that a civilian on the run is the right guy, or armed.

        I note that the question was about “cops,” not about soldiers. As for Mexico, they need a new law: Any official (local or national) that takes a bribe from a gangster or sicario….should be sentenced to the same prison term as the bribe giver. Consider it a twist on the felony murder rule.

  24. “That didn’t stop an Austin police SWAT sniper from shooting and killing a perp from a whirlybird in 2015.”

    Huh? From the linked article, the assailant was firing on a police helicopter circling above, but he himself was shot by a police sniper on the ground:

    “[Austin Police Department Officer] Serrato, who was prone near a ditch between two nearby properties, fatally shot Flache with his camouflaged sniper rifle.”

    APD responded to shots fired in the neighborhood. When their helicopter showed up, the shooter started firing on the helicopter, striking it repeatedly. The helicopter continued to draw the shooter’s fire, while SWAT officers on the ground moved in undetected and fired the fatal shot ending the attack.

    The helicopter is tangential to that 2015 story and irrelevant to this TTAG post on police shootings from the air.

    • I’m glad someone else saw that and felt compelled to comment. Having lived in the Austin area for nearly 20 years, I’d like to think I’d remember something like a SWAT sniper shooting from a helicopter. And reading the article, I remember when this happened… it’s not too far from my in-laws’ old neighborhood.

      RF, you know better than to make stupid sh** up for the sake of a clickbait story. You do good journalism well enough without just spouting stuff without vetting your facts. It gets old and makes me not trust anything you say.

      • I know. But if we don’t demand standards of some kind, we’ll just continue to get stupid nonsense. Well, we might still get stupid nonsense, but at least he’d know we expect more from him.

  25. No big deal. Someone just forgot to drop the payment envelope off at The Mexican Marines HQ. Won’t happen again anytime soon.

  26. Important counter-question: where do we draw the line? Our former POTUS has for many years been unilaterally engaging and killing terror suspects with drones- including US Citizens- with zero due process. Was it justified? Maybe. Was there compelling evidence? Sure. Was there a trial? Absolutely not. Where exactly do we draw the line? What controls do we put in place?

  27. If the criminal in question is posing a risk that falls within already-established jurisprudence for use of deadly force, it shouldn’t matter.

    I have some worries about using drones- or, recently, a bomb-strapped suicide robot- but really it makes no difference as long as the threat to someone else (not the drone!) fits the description.

  28. What everyone seams to be missing is …Were talking about “State/Goverment Sanctioned assassinations”! I wonder how Hillary “Benghazi” Clinton would have used these toys, and the “Method” to her political advantage….I wonder how many other Clinton adversaries would have a “Drone accident” if she made President…..Hmmm…

  29. Generally speaking, civilian police probably shouldn’t be firing from aerial platforms. However, in some specialized circumstances it may be appropriate. Back in the 80’s we had a pursuit of a bank robber who had fired shots at pursuing officers. He got on the interstate and out in the boonies, in an area where the east-west lanes were divided by a long stretch of forest and almost no traffic except for pursuing officers, the helicopter pilot was able to get low enough and the co-pilot/spotter was able to empty the 20-round magazine of a full-auto M-14 into the center of the hood and into the engine, effectively stopping the pursuit. I used to have a picture of the almost perfect 10 inch diameter circle of holes in the hood but it has gone bye-bye in the intervening years. Every time I watch a video of a pursuit I think of that one and how epic it was.

  30. The guy in Austin was taken out by a ground-based sniper; the chopper was just used as a distraction while the sniper moved into position. He was shooting at the chopper. Father of two young girls. Never a good ending. The perps in the red truck appeared to have been smuggling humans in the cab and under the tarp in the bed. Risky to shoot – could have killed a person being smuggled. The rationale was that they were nearing a school, refusing to stop for police, and proceeding at a high rate of speed, with unknown intent. Sniper targeted the car’s tires, successfully – 3 flats.

  31. I admit the thought of 20 drones chasing ANTIFA through the streets, firing a hail of pepper balls as they trip over their flagpoles is far too tempting. Probably better to hold off on this one, for now…

  32. Cartel members should be considered Terrorists and subject to the same rules of engagement, which is to say they should be hunted down and killed with extreme prejudice. Also the best way to handle the US-Mexico boarder is to make it a DMZ, it really is a war on drugs, lets treat it that way, minefields machine-gun nests, the whole nine yards. That would solve our illegal immigration and drug smuggling issues quickly.

    • When it is the government doing the shooting there needs to be an actual threat and they better know who they are shooting.

      Disarm most cops for the safety of the American people or remove all immunity cops currently enjoy.

  33. Cops are civilians and yes they should be prohibited from firing from aircraft or using drones and robots to kill. Most cops should be disarmed.

    Citizens should be armed,not government employees.

  34. I guess my test would be this: would whatever equipment they used and whatever action they take be legal for a “civilian” (non-police) to do in the same circumstances? The answer to that is the answer to whether it is ok for the police to do it.

    For example; is it legal for a civilian to fly a drone with a weapon on it? The answer is no, therefore, at least currently, the answer for whether police should have that is also no. Is it legal for a civlian to shoot someone from a helicopter; the answer is sometimes (if they are being shot at, for example), so the answer for police is also sometimes.

  35. There is only one question: is deadly force justified?
    If the answer is yes, i don’t care what happens next, but it would make me happy if no civilians or officers would die in the process. If it is justifiable to kill him they should be able to use any tool the see fit. I wouldn’t care if they would use intercontinental missiles if they are the best way of taking out the bad guys without harming the good guys…

    • Maxi: “There is only one question: is deadly force justified?”

      There’s another question: What makes deadly force justified?
      Here in the US, we have an answer, and it’s found in our laws.
      Other places, the laws may define it differently, or the people faced with the question of whether or not to use deadly force may not feel the laws are worth obeying at that particular time (this happens a lot in some countries).
      So the question isn’t really a simple one.

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