Thornton council approves drone restrictions

Misuse can lead to fines

Tabatha Stewart
Special to Colorado Community Media
Posted 4/3/19

Thornton City council members voted unanimously to approve city code that would allow people who use unmanned aircraft systems, or drones, to harass, annoy or observe another person to be fined up to …

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Thornton council approves drone restrictions

Misuse can lead to fines

Posted

Thornton City council members voted unanimously to approve city code that would allow people who use unmanned aircraft systems, or drones, to harass, annoy or observe another person to be fined up to $2,650. This issue of regulating drone use was tabled in December, after council members requested more information. After speaking with drone specialists and enthusiasts, council members approved section 38-358 of the Thornton city code during the March 19 meeting.

Police Chief Randy Nelson addressed council members, and said although the wrongful use of drones is not currently a big problem, it is something that needs to be addressed for future use.

“Right now, it’s not a big problem, honestly,” said Nelson. “We believe the majority of people using the systems will use them responsibly, but I can perceive this becoming an issue down the road, and hopefully we can get ahead of it.”

Nelson said they are seeing more use of drones during big city events, such as the fourth of July events, when people take their drones to the air to capture footage of the fireworks and paratroopers. They also had a problem with drones being flown over the construction site where dinosaur bones were found at the Fossil Ridge Public Safety Center in 2017.

Assistant City Manager Joyce Hunt presented to council members, and said the city staff recommended the approval of the ordinance.

“The intent was always something that you could consider if a drone is flown in a reckless manner,” said Hunt. “This is not going to do anything against commercial drone specialists or enthusiasts.”

The ordinance states that a drone operator must remain within the line of sight of the drone, or be in communication with someone who is. It also states it is unlawful to observe another person, harass or annoy any person or group, or recklessly buzzing or hovering with 15 feet of a non-consenting person.

It is also unlawful to operate a UAS in a manner that impedes or in any way interferes with a police officer or firefighter, or to launch or land a UAS within 25 feet of any person, bicyclist, motorist, livestock or companion animal.

Jen Allen, owner of Aim Realty in Broomfield, said as a real estate agent she uses the services of a certified drone specialist on occasion, and it’s beneficial to some businesses.

“We absolutely use drone footage, although it’s a significant expense that isn’t always necessary,” said Allen. “We have people moving here from out of state, and drone footage allows us to give them a better view of the property. I know we’re all very careful about only showing the property we’re listing.”

Nelson said the he hopes education about drone laws and the new ordinance will be sufficient to thwart the improper use of drones, but those who disregard the laws will now be open to police enforcement by way of fines.

“From the police perspective, we hope our enforcement begins first with education,” said Nelson. “Then those who choose to blatantly use the UAS improperly will be pretty obvious.”

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