With the popularity of drones on the upswing, Seattle police are finding themselves investigating more crashes of the unmanned aerial vehicles, including at the Great Wheel on Wednesday.
Seattle police picked up the pieces of yet another broken drone, this time from beneath the giant Ferris wheel that dominates the Elliott Bay waterfront.
In a city that once adamantly opposed the police use of drones, officers are finding themselves spending more time investigating crashes of privately owned unmanned aerial vehicles into Seattle landmarks and even people.
Police spokesman Patrick Michaud said the wayward craft didn’t strike anyone nor cause significant damage.
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No one has rushed forward to claim the drone, which is priced at just over $1,200 on Amazon.com. Police plan to contact the manufacturer with the drone’s serial number to track down the owner, Michaud said.
If the drone was equipped with a video system, officers also can tap into it and possibly obtain images of the person who launched it, Michaud said. If that happens, police expect to release the images to the media for help in identifying the culprit.
Michaud concedes police don’t plan to seek charges against the operator and there is no requirement that drone owners register their aircraft in a government database.
“There was no damage to the wheel,” Michaud said. “We just need to ID who the person was who was flying it and move along. The easiest thing is for someone to step forward and say ‘it was my drone and it was an accident.’ ”
While that may be easier said than done, drone strikes and reports of the remote-controlled craft breaching sensitive areas are increasing in Seattle and around the nation.
Last month, the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) said the agency receives about 100 reports a month from pilots who have seen drones flying near planes and airports. As a result, the FAA is pushing for larger versions of the increasingly popular unmanned aircraft to be registered.
FAA chief Michel Huerta said registration will increase pressure on drone operators to fly responsibly.
The reason many people find drones appealing is precisely what sparked a public backlash after Seattle police purchased a pair of drones three years ago. The department, with money from a Homeland Security grant, obtained two 3 ½-pound drones, envisioning aerial-surveillance uses during hostage situations and search-and-rescue operations.
But after the plan drew opposition from numerous citizens concerned about intrusions into their privacy, then-Mayor Mike McGinn grounded the program even before it took off.
“People are against police drones because of privacy reasons, but any Joe can go buy one,” Michaud said.
Closer to home, an Oak Harbor man was charged with reckless endangerment after the drone he was operating struck a 25-year-old woman at Seattle’s Pride Parade in June, knocking her unconscious.
In June 2014, a woman told Seattle police she saw a drone hovering outside her downtown high-rise while she was topless. The drone owner was a Portland-based aerial photographer.
The following month, Space Needle security summoned Seattle police after several guests reported seeing a small drone possibly crash into an observation deck. There was no damage to the Seattle landmark.
At Las Vegas Drones Plus, which bills itself North America’s largest drone retailer, business is booming. Jerry King, a customer-service and tech representative, said Drones Plus is anticipating a record holiday season.
The retailer, which has gone from a single store in Nevada to 13 across the U.S. in just two years, sells the aircraft to private buyers, construction firms, cleaning and inspections companies and police departments, he said.
King says customers are not required to take a training course on the operation of a drone. However, private companies offering training are popping up all over the country.
He thinks the market will explode when the FAA finally establishes rules and regulations for flying drones.
“America is behind in regulating drones,” he said. “Drones are here to stay regardless if civilians are upset or if the government is upset.”
Michaud acknowledges the allure of piloting a drone and recording aerial images, but urges caution.
“It’s not much different than an old-fashioned remote-controlled helicopter, but you have to use common sense,” Michaud said. “You have to be aware of what’s going on. Don’t fly it into the Great Wheel, the Space Needle or around the airport.”