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Are Drones Being Used to Hunt Accused Calif. Cop-Killer -- the 'First Human Target' on U.S. Soil?

Are Drones Being Used to Hunt Accused Calif. Cop-Killer -- the 'First Human Target' on U.S. Soil?

“We are using all the tools at our disposal.”

Editor's note: Further reports have U.S. Customs and Border Patrol saying drones are not being used to look for Christopher Dorner. We've included an update at the end of this post regarding this new information. 

With the manhunt for fugitive ex-police officer Christopher Dorner -- a man wanted for the slayings of three people -- heading into day eight, reports are that the police department will be using "all tools at our disposal," which includes drones.

This image provided by the Irvine Police Department shows Christopher Dorner from surveillance video at an Orange County, Calif., hotel. (Photo: AP/Irvine Police Department)

The U.K.'s The Express reported that Dorner was the "first human target for remotely-controlled airborne drones on US soil." Here's more on what officers revealed about the use of drones in this case:

A senior police source said: “The thermal imaging cameras the drones use may be our only hope of finding him. On the ground, it’s like looking for a needle in a haystack.”

Asked directly if drones have already been deployed, Riverside Police Chief Sergio Diaz, who is jointly leading the task force, said: “We are using all the tools at our disposal.”

The use of drones was later confirmed by Customs and Border Patrol spokesman Ralph DeSio, who revealed agents have been prepared for Dorner to make a dash for the Mexican border since his rampage began.

He said: “This agency has been at the forefront of domestic use of drones by law enforcement. That’s all I can say at the moment.”

The question over the use of drones to find Dorner, who has a $1 million reward on his head for information leading to his arrest, comes as the use of such equipment has been at the forefront of public discussion after a leaked memo revealed the Obama administration's approval of using drones against U.S. citizens, provided they are “senior operational” leaders of Al Qaeda or “an associated force."

The hunt for Dorner began after he shot to death an assistant women's college basketball coach and her fiance in their car in Irvine, Calif., on Feb. 3. Police later learned the woman was the daughter of a retired Los Angeles police captain who represented Dorner in disciplinary hearings that resulted in his dismissal from the force.

Three days later, police discovered Dorner's manifesto of his thoughts about the police department and public figures such as President Barack Obama, former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and the president of the NRA.

San Bernardino County Sheriff's officer Ken Owens searches a home for the former Los Angeles police officer Christopher Dorner in Big Bear Lake, Calif, Sunday, Feb. 10. (Photo: AP/Jae C. Hong)

By Feb. 7, Riverside police were chasing a man thought to be Dorner, which resulted in one cop being grazed by a bullet. Two officers were ambushed by the man after he evaded the other officers during the chase. At this time the man killed one Riverside police officer and the other is critically injured.

The hunt over the weekend had officers in the freezing, snowy San Bernardino Mountains where Dorner's footprints were lost near the site where his burned out truck was found. Helicopters with heat-seeking technology were deployed in the mountains near Big Bear.

As for the use of drones, the Department of Homeland Security has long been using UAVs overseas in combat zones for both surveillance and lethal strikes. More recently, DHS has been using  drones for surveillance on U.S. soil, especially at the borders. Weaponized drones to be used in strikes against American citizens who have ties to terrorist organizations has only recently come to light and is spurring conversation regarding whether it is constitutional. When it comes to local police departments' use of drones, more law enforcement across the nation have been acquiring the equipment for surveillance purposes. The FAA recently released an updated list of who has applied for drone authorization approval in the United States, thanks to a Freedom of Information Act request made by the Electronic Frontier Foundation.

From what was said by officers regarding the use of drones in the manhunt for Dorner, it appears they will only be used to locate and not to take down the suspected killer. As for Dorner being the "first human target" of drones in the U.S., this isn't necessarily the case. For example, a judge allowed the use of drones for surveillance of a citizen who was accused of stealing cows in North Dakota.

Watch this local news report regarding the manhunt and the reward offered:

Update: As we stated earlier in this post, Dorner would not technically the first man to have drones hunt for him in U.S. soil, but Gawker pointed to an interview with U.S. Customs and Border Patrol by Mashable, which state the use of drones in Droner's case is not correct:

"Reports that U.S. Customs and Border Protection’s unmanned aircraft systems (UAS) are being used are incorrect. CBP UAS are not flying in support of the search," a spokesperson from the U.S. Customs and Border Protection told Mashable via email.

The statement from the CBP comes as others had already cast doubt on the original report's claim.

The Associated Press contributed to this report. 

(H/T: Gizmodo)

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