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Identity & Community

Do Not Take Your Drone Out To The Ballgame

Keith Srakocic
Associated Press

Since about 2013, the use of personal drones has been on the rise; they’ve become more widely available and affordable. But, with that rise comes concerns about safety and privacy, but Allegheny County District Attorney Stephen Zappala said they could be of tremendous help to law enforcement.

Zappala’s office has purchased one drone for the chiefs of police in the North Hills and has a commitment to buy at least two more for other forces.

“What we’re going to use the drones for initially is to look for lost children, autistic children that elope, people with Alzheimer’s, people with dementia and they’ve been used for search and rescue along the rivers,” said Zappala.

Nineteen states have passed bills related to drones and four other states have passed resolutions, according to the National Conference of State Legislators. Pennsylvania is not one of them but legislation is pending in Harrisburg.

“Some of the legislation is referred to as Peeping Tom legislation or voyeurism legislation,” said Zappala. “What I think we’re going to do in Allegheny County is follow a model like in Illinois, create an oversight task force, talk about critical infrastructure, sports and entertainment venues, restricted areas.”

Meantime, the DA’s office has had conversations with officials from PNC Park and Heinz Field, over the concern of drones being flown during games, a practice that is prohibited, but that’s not widely known.

“When the Pirates are playing or when the Steelers are playing those venues have more than 30,000 seats, you can’t come within three miles of those venues,” said Zappala.

More likely than not, a drone-operator would want to send one over games for the photo opportunities or to see game play. But, Zappala said drones also pose a threat, as they can be used for violence. Flying a drone during a game would be considered a reckless act, said Zappala, and would come with a list of criminal charges.

“Possession of an instrument of crime, recklessly endangering another person, threat to use weapon of mass destruction, terrorism, causing a catastrophe, risking a catastrophe, criminal mischief, criminal trespass, disorderly conduct – if somebody gets hurt, we’re talking homicide potentially.

Zappala said that in 2013 Pennsylvania lawmakers floated a bill that would have enacted a moratorium on drone use, but it failed and this summer another was introduced that would limit drone use. He said he expects the topic will come up again.