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SALT LAKE CITY — The Federal Aviation Administration wants police in Utah — and around the country — to keep an eye on the sky and help track down people who use drones illegally.
The FAA says the main reason for this request is to try to get voluntary compliance with regulations from the growing number of people who are flying drones. The problem is, those people say, the regulations are ambiguous at best.
Jon McBride is an expert when it comes to unmanned aerial systems — known to most people as drones — and says the FAA faces a monumental task in regulating these aircraft.
“They don’t know how to handle the number of possible units in the air at one time,” McBride, the sales director for Rocky Mountain Unmanned Aerial Systems, said.
So the FAA has asked for help from local law enforcement agencies.
“I think they’re just trying to protect the public,” Rep. Lee Perry from Box Elder County said.
Perry has drafted legislation on drone use in Utah.
He's also a lieutenant with the Utah Highway Patrol and says he sees nothing alarming about the FAA's request for help.
I would be a little more concerned if it was going to invade on people's personal freedoms. But I don't think that's what they're trying to accomplish here.
–Rep. Lee Perry, Box Elder County
“I would be a little more concerned if it was going to invade on people’s personal freedoms,” Perry said. “But I don’t think that’s what they’re trying to accomplish here.”
Perry said police already help the FAA in its role as the initial responders to most plane crashes.
“The call comes in, and they’re either out in the middle of a field somewhere or on a freeway, so yes, law enforcement gets the call and responds,” Perry said. “But that’s not our job to investigate it. We get to the scene, gather some information and we hold it till the FAA arrives.”
That's essentially all the FAA is asking police to do when it comes to their interactions with people who are flying drones, Perry said.
“We train neighbors and Neighborhood Watch to look for suspicious activity, and I think that’s the same thing the FAA is asking local law enforcement to do at this point,” Perry said.
For now, McBride isn't concerned about police talking to pilots of unmanned aircraft.
“Are they telling them no, are they putting them in a squad car, taking their stuff?” McBride said. “No. That’s not what the intention is here. It’s spreading information.”
Perry plans to have another bill on drones in the upcoming legislative session; however, it will only deal with law enforcement use of drones.