Feb 12, 2014
07:42 AM
Connecticut Today

Drones and Connecticut: Lawmakers Look Into Use by Police, Others

Drones and Connecticut: Lawmakers Look Into Use by Police, Others

Peter Hvizdak/New Haven Register

Peter Sachs of Branford, a Branford fire police captain, shows off his DJI Phantom 2 Vision, commonly known as a drone.

When a Branford fire police captain, a self-described “drone guy,” helped determine that explosives were safely distant from a fire at the Stony Creek Quarry, he was hailed for his voluntary aid.

When a journalist affiliated with WFSB used a drone over a fatal car crash in Hartford, the Federal Aviation Administration said it would investigate the issue because the use was “commercial.”

Meanwhile, state Reps. James Albis, D-East Haven, and Matthew Ritter, D-Hartford, are drafting legislation that would make sure police don’t use “unmanned aircraft” without a warrant.

Are issues about drones (the modern version of radio-controlled aircraft used by kids in the ’60s) spinning out of control?

When it comes to commercial use — even by journalists — the issue is murky.

What seems less murky is Connecticut's likely position right at the center of everything to do with drones, including their production. Our June 2013 story on that aspect of the issue opened like this:

In March, Republican U.S. Sen. Rand Paul of Kentucky launched a dramatic, 13-hour filibuster to block the appointment of John Brennan as director of the CIA. In part, Paul was protesting the potential use of military drones against U.S. citizens on American soil.
In the future, if Paul wants to protest against drones, he might want to come to Connecticut. According to Federal Aviation Administration regulations, “unmanned aircraft”—also known as drones or unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs)—will be allowed in domestic airspace as of 2015, and a Shelton company is already designing them.
Shortly after Paul’s filibuster, a report by the Association for Unmanned Vehicle Systems International (AUVSI) ranked Connecticut sixth among states that will benefit when use of drones is legal. And last summer, officials from the U.S. Intelligence Advanced Research Projects Activity Agency in Washington, D.C., awarded a $4.8 million contract to the Shelton-based D-STAR Engineering Corp. to develop a stealth drone-propulsion system.

See the full 2013 Connecticut Magazine story on drones and the state.

Meanwhile, when it comes to Connecticut laws on drones, Albis’ and Ritter’s proposal, which still must go through the Judiciary Committee and public hearings, is mostly concerned with misuse by law enforcement. It also addresses the use of drones for voyeurism or harassment, such as stalking.

Albis said he wants the state to be able to regulate those areas in which it is legally able to do so.

“My current understanding is that as a state, we will probably not be able to require where they can and cannot fly,” Albis said. That’s up to the FAA, which says commercial use is illegal.

Albis isn’t concerned about that in his legislation. “There’s a definite recognition that this technology can be used for amazing things,” such as real estate, farming and other commercial uses. His bill also will not address journalistic uses, which came up last week in Hartford.

“I don’t know if we have the latitude to really address those (issues) at this point on the state level,” Albis said.

While police actions can be photographed and video recorded, according to the courts, drones bring up new issues because of their potential access.

“Here was a dead body still on the scene. We had covered it the best we could,” said Lt. Brian Foley, a Hartford police spokesman, who said drones have been appearing more frequently at crime scenes. “You don’t want the family to see that.”

The employee of WFSB who used the drone was questioned but not charged.

Peter Sachs is the fire police captain who is also a lawyer and private investigator (he does not use his drone in his work) who was called on in the Stony Creek quarry fire. He says flatly that there are no laws or regulations about commercial use of the little camera-equipped “quadricopters.”

“It’s the modern and far more capable vision of what we used to fly and used to crash all the time,” he said of his drone, which actually will fly back to its lift-off point if it senses anything wrong, such as a broken signal, said Sachs, who runs www.dronelawjournal.com and goes by the Twitter handle “thedroneguy.”

Unlike radio-equipped hobby planes, Sachs’ drone can send video back to a smartphone app. It’s equipped with GPS, “which allows it to fly in a very stable manner and also affords you the capability to park it in the air,” Sachs said. His model, a DJI Phantom 2 Vision, cost $1,200 from B&H Photo in New York. It can also be ordered online.

While drone operators have received cease-and-desist orders from the FAA (the agency said it has sent out 12 “warning letters”), Sachs said they are inconsistently issued and inappropriate given the lack of regulation. The agency is working on such regulations but the fall 2015 deadline is unlikely to be met.

See the full story at the New Haven Register online.


Drones and Connecticut: Lawmakers Look Into Use by Police, Others

Reader Comments

comments powered by Disqus