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Fox CT Investigates: FAA looking into possible illegal use of drones at Hartford crash scene

This is an archived article and the information in the article may be outdated. Please look at the time stamp on the story to see when it was last updated.

The Federal Aviation Administration confirmed to FOX CT News Thursday they are investigating the use of a drone at a Hartford fatal crash scene Saturday.

Questions about officer safety and public privacy are emerging now after the drone was spotted above a fatal car crash on Main Street.

FOX CT was the only media organization to obtain the official Hartford Police Department incident report Thursday, detailing the chain of events.

According to the report, officers spotted a drone flying over the scene of the crash, in which the bodies were still in the car.

Police Lt. Brian Foley told FOX CT that drones present concerns regarding privacy and officer safety.

Drones, which are also known as “unmanned aircraft systems,” are seeing an uptick in popularity as they’re used by the U.S. government and are even the subject of plans by online retailer Amazon.com for use shipping products.

But now, the drone controversy emerging in Hartford has the FAA on alert because its use may have been illegal.

The police report says that on Saturday Feb. 1, officers spotted the drone overhead with an attached camera.

Police say they questioned the man operating the drone, but no arrest was made.

On Thursday, Hartford Police referred FOX CT News to the FAA for comment.

The FAA declined to comment but did confirm it has launched an investigation.

“Drones, not being helicopters, they’re much smaller, can have access to aerial places that traditional helicopters and airplanes do not,” says Hartford Attorney Corey Brinson.

Brinson, who grew up in Hartford and works in the Capital City now as a lawyer, says he’s also concerned about possible privacy violations stemming from drone use at crime and crash scenes.

“How do we balance this new technology? Do we allow more of an intrusion into more traditional private moments like a tragic car accident? Or do we say, ‘Well, this is a new technology and the public is going to have to adapt?’ ” says Brinson.

The police report says that in this case, the victim’s body was not visible but that “that may not always be the case.”

According to FAA regulations, drones cannot be operated for commercial use and according to Hartford Police, “The presence of a drone at a crime scene for journalistic purposes is in violation of FAA regulations.”

“These drones will be able to broadcast live from active shooters or SWAT team tactical units. … (It’s) very, very concerning to law enforcement because it could give the bad guys an upper hand,” says Brinson.

The FAA told FOX CT Friday that more time will be needed before additional details on the investigation are released.

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249 comments

  • Tom Freund

    Drones will be an important of the future of news gathering. Though I agree that a discussion on the best use of drones in this area, we cannot ignore what the FAA has already acknowledged as a part of the National Airspace in the near future. So, let's be responsible citizens. But, let's not deny the huge potential for unmanned systems in the civilian sector.

    Tom Freund
    Greater Hartford Drone Users Group

      • Joe

        krmod, are you a police officer? Rhetoric like that is premeditation of the intent to commit a crime or harassment. If YOU are in the public view a camera is NOT violating any law. Get a new job if you don't like it as being unable to protect the rights of the public over your own emotional assertions is what being a peace officer is about.

      • kmrod

        "premeditation of the intent to commit a crime or harassment"…… what?

        we set up a perimeter to keep the gawkers safe, protect the privacy of the people involved, and protect the safety of the officers, firefighters, and first responders. if you want to stand at the perimeter, great. if you want to take pictures, that's fine by me. if you want to take video i'll probably wave when i've cleared my duty.

        now on to drones…if you want to send one up from the perimeter i'll probably think it's strange but i wouldn't say a word. but if (no, when….because we all know eventually you'd do this) but when you fly it over the scene then you're putting me and other responders at risk. you do not have that right, so that drone would come down with haste and we'd have a talk.

        and before you say "but but BUT THERE'S NOTHING UNSAFE….blah blah blah" remember that one mechanical failure, or one second of inattention by you and now there are 4-6 blades spinning at 10k rpm coming down inside an already hectic scene. so yes, it is a matter of safety.

    • BobStrebs

      The “government” says that air space is no longer private, and that they can use it without warrant in “criminal” investigations. The government’s investigations are criminal as is the government’s abuse of power.

      • Drew

        Exactly..I suppose it's only ILLEGAL when the slave population (free American citizens) start watching the watchers and using their technology… I mean, come on…it's OK for THEM to illegally watch us, it's OK for THEM to bypass moral and ethical laws…but a crime when we do it. They claim "officer safety" as a potential risk…well? 1) You're an officer–danger is your middle name. deal with it and 2) Are they afraid we're going to record MORE of their abusive power against innocent people? Wake up people! We live under a tyrannical dictatorship

    • John Darbo

      According to FAA regulations, drones cannot be operated for commercial use and according to Hartford Police, “The presence of a drone at a crime scene for journalistic purposes is in violation of FAA regulations.”

      I would like the police to cite the applicable regulation that they consider to be violated. They won't find on.

      John Darbo

      • Hiram D Walker

        If this is a hobbyist flying his quad or helicopter and not doing it for journalistic purposes, there probably is no law that was violated. It's no different than somebody standing on their front porch or sidewalk and watching or filming. The airspace is considered public domain and they guy as any right to fly his quad or heli in public airspace as long as he's not endangering the public. Now it would be interesting to see a court ruling if he would publish it on YouTube – would it be considered for journalistic purposes even though he's a hobbyist, or the exercise of free speech under the First Amendment?

        Many times I'll fly my quad or FPV without recording the flight – just for the fun of it. There are other times I'll put a GoProI HD camera on one of my non-FPV models and record the flight.

        This smells like more police and govt harassment and intimidation than anything.

    • GeneRook

      Drones (unmanned machines) will, are, and have been a tool to wage war, find truths, and take lives. I find it very unusual that the government and private industry wants Congress to allow unrestricted use for "their interests" while chocking out the Media, private ownership, or small business usage.

      This is yet another technology, like the internet, that the benefactors will seek legal restrictions on public and or media's use in an attempt to "seek the truth".

      Unfortunately for them, Drone technology can be easily manufactured and/or duplicated and the market will drive international sources to provide the tech for anyone who has the money, no differently than value of drugs drives 130 old drug war and entwines governments, politicians, international terrorists, hoods, gangs, dealers, and users. (money always speaks louder than words)

      Soon, we the public will have our first case in the Federal Courts, likely involving and high ranking political figure who has committed atrocities against the people, this information will have been acquired by "drone technology" and it will lead to a legislation that "prohibits drone use by the public at large" or its the legal value of data obtained (unless by a government agency) (double standards) no different than so many technologies of the past and we will have more "Wiki Leaks" that will start the next great conflict of our generation.

      Read more: http://foxct.com/2014/02/07/faa-investigating-pos

    • ejj98765

      Don't forget that bullets shot into the air eventually fall, potentially injuring / killing people. Cops may miss multiple times with shots before hitting the drone, and this missed shots could be very dangerous.

    • Dave-o

      EVERYONE should use drones for target practice. 00 buck works well, and is much lighter than high-caliber rounds when gravity finally takes over.

    • pillz

      Its easy to see what happened here. Notice how the cops 'let the guy go'….Then they say 'talk to the FAA', then the FAA says 'we cant discuss it due to it being an on-going investigation'

      This was the Feds/DHS/FBI, all here is to it. Ive seen this happen before and usually its come civilian screwing around and they are always outed and they explain their case, but this here is being hushed up. Someone very high up was doing it, likely to justify how great they are in accident situations, and considering the gov/army and other LE agencies have had accidents with them already, i wouldnt be surprised if the drone caused it.

    • Redwolf

      That's just what we need, officers firing weapons into the air leaving pistol caliber bullets or 00 buckshot on unknown ballistic trajectories. It's reckless endangerment when a citizen does that and, as far as I know, police don't carry birdshot.
      Maybe we should just let people fly their radio controlled helicopters? It's somehow a drone when it's a quadrotor helicopter with a camera but mounting a camera on a remote controlled airplane for FPV leaves it just a remote controlled airplane.
      That being said, if someone is using one of these camera-equipped remote controlled aircraft to invade someone's privacy in violation of the law they should be found, arrested and tried in the courts for the crime they committed instead of just having police recklessly destroying someone's personal property because it was there.

      • nobodyspecial1958

        Yes, just like we're expected to obey the laws, but they can pick and choose which ones they want to follow.

    • JohnG911

      You can't justify someone's bad behavior because government is engaged in the same bad behavior. That's the type of logic I expect from children, not adults.

      • Major TJ

        True, we should just roll over and die, let the government do whatever it wants, and never ever question them. Because that's what good little democrat adults do.

      • Drew

        That's right..don't speak up–live under tyranny like the "good slave" you sound like… well done. They are NOT going to stop their bad behavior until MORE and MORE free Americans call them out on that–and we can't do that unless we are watching the watchers.

      • OldGuyInStanton

        The future of privacy and political freedom is tied to drones. Consider the effect that the cell phone camera has has around the world on citizens holding their governments to account. Now think about that multiplied a million-fold.

        Here is what is needed:
        – Every citizen has their own personal drone, under their control.
        – It hovers over your head whenever you are around other people.
        – It records visual and audio of everything you and the people around you say and do.
        – The recordings are immediately stored in the Cloud, real time.
        – The recordings are ONLY available to you or your authorized legal representative.
        – The drone is lightly armored, but if it is shot down another takes its place.

      • Doctor D

        I can only say one thing for sure, "Americans have not yet lost there sense of humor". My only concern is that when the laughter turns to crying, we will have reached the point of no return.

      • OldGuyInStanton

        Your assumption that it is "bad behavior" is unjustified. Everyone should have their own drone as their best defense against an intrusive government.

    • Macranthunter

      Remotely operated camera platforms like the one above are too inexpensive and too easily purchased or manufactured to regulate. It's going to be the VCR of the 21st century. Too late to put the genie back in the bottle.

  • Overtaxed

    Just wait until a drone capture a police beating or unjustified shooting, then we'll see how the policie feel about drone usage.

  • Danola

    … (It’s) very, very concerning to law enforcement because it could give the bad guys an upper hand,” says Brinson.
    The DOJ is already giving the bad guys the upper hand. Thanks to Holder and O.

    • Sourpuss

      They are already laying down the groundwork for going that direction.
      1) They put cops at risk.
      2) They put the public at risk
      3) They put the aviation public at risk
      Therefore: They must be used by professionals only.
      But you can still have one. You just have to pay a $10K licensing fee.

    • anonwolftv

      What about, and I know this just sounds crazy… ALL THE CCTV..? They watch your every move anyway, there is no such thing as privacy anymore. Your mobile phone gives you away, XBOX is scanning your nads, TSA groping your kids, medical records sold to private corporations, cars with smart trackers soon to be reporting you to the cops for speeding. Safety concerns from a slow flying UAV, unless your a tree you can move out of the way, it's got a camera on it, not a Hell Fire missile. I could have just as easily stuck a camera on a 50ft pole and got the same view, with no issue at all…

  • John Q. Public

    This guy is an idiot.
    1. Drones are not necessarily smaller than helicopters, and Drones have no more access from the air than a helicopter does.
    2. News helicopters fly over accident scenes all across the country filming dead bodies, They just don't air it.
    3. He doesn't understand the concept of 'No Reasonable Expectation of Privacy'
    And he is supposed to be a lawyer???

    • John Q's Better

      Actually, you are quite wrong. The Supreme Court has ruled in several cases that the 4th Amendmend extends to automobile owners in the cars they own and drive.

      • John Q's NotBetter

        plain view doctrine. 4th only applies to anything you cannot see in plain view, a drone is clearly in this realm.

    • Billy

      This is no different than someone taking video from the side of the road or out of a window in one of the nearby apartment buildings. Cops don't complain about the presence of news helicopters and will have to learn to deal with "drones" as well, just as long as the drones don't unreasonably interfere with their investigation.

      Too bad the cops were focused on the cameras rather than on those involved in the car accident. It is legal to film cops, whether using a handheld or drone-held camera. Having said that, drone operators should be responsible about how they operate their equipment.

    • daveginoly

      "(P)ublic privacy"? There is no "privacy" in "public." If someone wants "privacy," they need to be somewhere "private." If someone is in "public," they can have no expectation of "privacy."

    • c130guy

      Helicopter and aircraft are regulated by the FAA, now the FAA want to regulate the Remote Control world……I agree with that if it is over 50 pound aircraft……

  • TeVeo

    Cops record you all the time. Whats the difference. Now all those idiots with google glasses can record you in real time and this idiot brinson thinks we have to have privacy. Why doesnt he go and complain at google's front door. Coward.

  • Pingback: WIERD
  • NuLL.n.VoiD

    OK, I understand the private moment to a limited extent. I mean, after all, it is a crash on a public highway in plain view. So the the private moment argument is a bit iffy. I really don't understand the officer safety aspect. Unless the pilot is physically interfering with the officer being able to perform their duties, it would be no different than a camera operator using a zoom lens to get a better shot. The drone may be unmanned but it's still operated by a human being as an extension of their camera. The commercial use is an implication that the video is being sold as a product. I'm not sure that news gathering is categorized the same way.

  • Bob

    The press doesn't give a flip for privacy as it is. They should have no right to show pictures or names of anyone that has not given them permission for sensitive issues like this or supposedly "innocent until proven guilty" people picked up for crimes. The press ruins lives of many innocent victims for profit every day. Drones are just another tool of their trade. If you ban those, you have to ban cameras and microphones as well.

    • Dennis Johnson

      Beth, when the police or military comes to pay you a visit, get back to us and tell us how that action worked out for you…..

    • Hiram D Walker

      And firing on an aircraft, whether it's manned or a radio control model, is considered a felony. Is it worth being reported and having to deal with multiple federal agencies? It'll probably cost more in legal fees than your farm is worth.
      I'm a licensed pilot and fly radio control FPV (first person view – similar to the view from the cockpit). When I have my FPV in the air, I have well over $6000 invested in airframe and electronics with the intent to make it as safe as possible. I have it in the air for personal enjoyment, not for profit or to spy on anybody. Almost all of my flying is over farm land. If anybody would shoot at it, I'd definitely report them – the location would be very easy to mark by GPS coordinates and capture the picture.

  • KVK

    Hey Brinson, it could give the 'good guys' the upper hand as well. Unless you're blind, today's increasingly 'militarized' cops get away with murder, literally. All cops, no matter what the situation is, must be kept in check at all times.

    • FreudianSlip

      All cops should be audio/video recorded while on duty. Seems they have no problem doing that to legal US citizens, probably can't do it to illegal aliens though. But of course their government/police union objects to them being spied on. Why are unions allowed in government jobs again? Shouldn't that be illegal? They're already overpaid and have way more crazy benefits and pensions than civilians.

    • libtardation

      it is in obama's home town … lol did i just say that home town… place he was put after being smuggled into the country. Chicago.

      many people have been punished for recording police wrong doing, look it up. democrats are PURE EVIL

      • Mike

        actually they have overturned that in cook county the rest of illinois is soon to follow because it is your first amendment right to publicly record public officials

  • General Drake

    "Police Lt. Brian Foley told Fox CT that drones present concerns regarding privacy and officer safety." Right. Ohhhhh sure. Police have not an iota of concern for their 'safety' . That is complete hogwash. They simply don't want the public to be able to scrutinize them as they do with all their cameras at every corner and in every police car recording your every move. Hypocrites.

  • Christian

    Wait! So the police are worried about their privacy?! I find it funny that the police are worried for their privacy when they have so many cameras pointing at ordinary citizens 24/7! Its funny how the FAA is the only federal agency involved. If its an issue of live broadcasting, wouldn't that be an issue with the FCC? To top it off I did not hear it mentioned, but I will go ahead and say it, the only reason I see not to allow the drone to film the accident is out of respect for the victim's family. If the government owns drones, the people should be allowed to own drones. If the government can operate a drone freely anywhere they want, so should the people. Yes the guy flying his drone in this incident is probably a brainless idiot but he was not hurting anyone, so no harm done. I see the drone issue like the gun issue now.

  • Knotuhr Mahmmi

    The courts have ruled that one has no expectation of privacy in public. Period. And that includes the police performing their normal duties.

    • GeneRook

      Drones (unmanned machines) will, are, and have been a tool to wage war, find truths, and take lives. I find it very unusual that the government and private industry wants Congress to allow unrestricted use for "their interests" while chocking out the Media, private ownership, or small business usage.

      This is yet another technology, like the internet, that the benefactors will seek legal restrictions on public and or media's use in an attempt to "seek the truth".

      Unfortunately for them, Drone technology can be easily manufactured and/or duplicated and the market will drive international sources to provide the tech for anyone who has the money, no differently than value of drugs drives 130 old drug war and entwines governments, politicians, international terrorists, hoods, gangs, dealers, and users. (money always speaks louder than words)

      Soon, we the public will have our first case in the Federal Courts, likely involving and high ranking political figure who has committed atrocities against the people, this information will have been acquired by "drone technology" and it will lead to a legislation that "prohibits drone use by the public at large" or its the legal value of data obtained (unless by a government agency) (double standards) no different than so many technologies of the past and we will have more "Wiki Leaks" that will start the next great conflict of our generation.

      Read more: http://foxct.com/2014/02/07/faa-investigating-pos

  • Mike

    So, R/C helicopters with cameras on them are now drones. Hobbyists have been doing this for years. In the 70's my buddy had an Estes rocket with a camera on it. We used to hang a camera under a few store bought helium balloons. I bet this "drone" was controlled by a hand controller with a 9 volt battery and was likely in view of the controller. This is quite different from a government drone (which may carry weapons) that can be controlled from halfway around the world, or on the other side of town, by a technician sitting in a recliner. I wonder when the background checks and permitting will start, as well as having to file flight plans or be restricted to airspace over a field in the middle of nowhere between certain hours, for R/C hobbyists?

  • Former cops agree

    Police should all be forced to wear body cameras and have their movements and activities watched at all times while on the job. It would help keep them in check. If we’re going to live in a 1984 style surveillance state what makes them exempt?? Are they somehow cut from a better cloth than the rest of us?

  • CyB

    What FAA regulation did they break exactly? If I'm flying a toy airplane and someone has a car accident in the area am I suddenly breaking some kind of law?

    • jaye

      So because you feel it is ok to fly a camera we should agree to it although we don't know your intent. My hobbies don't infringe on your privacy, I don't think your hobby should either.

      • Flying photographer

        Actually, yes, you should agree to someone operating a camera from the air, because it is already legal. Airborne photography is, and should be, airborne photography whether taken from a private airplane, helicopter, or remote control device. Someone operating a camera should follow the exiting laws regarding use of a camera, whether it is in the air or not.

        Aerial photography and video is used for photographing boats, landscapes, wildlife, real estate, golf courses, and tons of other uses. The development of inexpensive radio-controlled devices with camera mounts makes this art available to all of us. Why should you be able to tell me it is illegal to take an aerial video of my home, or the ducks in my river, or a fly-over of a natural marsh area normally inaccessible unless by air?

        As long as I am not spying on you and invading your already-exiting privacy rights, please don't infringe on my Constitutional rights.

  • brian

    A specific lie occured when the police chief said there are FAA regulations against filming a crash scene with a drone. The type of lie one makes out of being frustrated at a situation there is no actual law against, and grabbing air to see what sticks. When I say lie, I specifically mean a police officer leader filling in gaps with things that are not true. It must be very frustrating that no department can do anything about drone journalism. But hey in the meantime, making up lies to cover unadjudicated ground is a nice start.

  • brian

    This is exactly what will happen. The FAA can regulate the drone if it was being flown in an unsafe manner, period. Zero percent of the investigation will center around privacy regarding the FAA. if the flight is deemed dangerous, then he will be fined. If not, and it wont, he won't, and uninformed citizens who fly drones will continue to be happy to correctly inform police officers on the FAA's stance about drone use over crime scenes. Zero expectation of privacy Bub means only your state laws can say that flight was illegal, like how CO says its legal to smoke but the FEDS disagree. The Feds have already said google earth can film this crime scene if it so happens by, good luck differentiating that sequence from that of a live shot drone. If the footage wasn't sold, and gained only for hobby use, get ready to close up your investigation really quick and prosecute anyone who flies a toy wal mart heli with a recording cam in a park setting.

  • brian

    ps, hello rcgroups. I bet 15 people posted this already in seperate threads wanting the first scoop. one of them was likely the pilot too lol.

  • grunk

    “The presence of a drone at a crime scene for journalistic purposes is in violation of FAA regulations.”

    So FAA regulations trump the First Amendment of the Bill of Rights?

  • HDThoreau

    The FAA aren't investigating anything. They've been sending out notices to commercial drone companies for the last year. They are ginning up a BS story to support their harassment of private plane owners.

    By the way, this isn't a drone. It's a remote controlled plane. The real UAV drones are semi-autonomous unmanned craft, that the FAA doesn't seem to care about, with hellfire missiles attached to it. A real drone crashed in Maryland, and they didn't seem to give a flyin F about it. Draw your own conclusions. Government isn't here to protect you. It's here to protect itself.

  • guest

    There is no privacy at a crash scene. I've personally witnesses crash scenes up close, bodies and all. So, if someone owned a helicopter they couldn't hover over the scene and watch?

  • simpleton1776

    For privacy, hippa doesnt apply because it's out in public. There is no expectation of privacy when out in public. Second, officer safety reasons are moot. It's a bullshit blanket reason to get someone else to stop doing whatever is being done, lawfully. (ie harassment of photographers in public.)

  • MadCharles

    We have a failed msm so someone has to keep an eye on these thugs. All law enforcement have become militarized, more weapons are in the hands of hacks like the EPA, all are more dangerous than ever before. The country has gone to crap for the citizenry.
    rvn70/71

  • stacy4422

    I have been flying an RC plain with cameras on it for over 20 years now, And in 5yrs it will be against the law for me to fly my RC plain because they call it a drone!!~!!! More freedoms gone!!!

  • PatrickJT

    CCTV, Google Glasses, drones, "smart dust" (may not be a reality yet but will be), "social" media, NSA spying programs, and what else? Society has become dangerously obsessed with the lives of others, and this is just the beginning. Technology has surpassed humanity's level of responsibility and ethics. The price for this obsession will be liberty.

    • scottyW

      "Technology has surpassed humanity's level of responsibility and ethics. The price for this obsession will be liberty. " to summarize Albert Einstein . Mankinds unbelievable hubris is why civilizations disappear, history repeats itself ALWAYS.

  • Sean Delevan

    The police unions and officers have fought tooth and nail to not have their actions recorded or streamed live due to their brutality and mistreatment of citizens around the Country.

    So it is no shock that they are protesting having their actions on a live feed.

    EVERY officer needs to be on camera AT ALL TIMES.

    They did this is a town or city in California and police brutality complaints plummeted.

    You don't say!

  • Bill Inaz

    There would, of course, be no concern if the police knew it was theirs. The issue is not the drone, in and of itself, we're all going to have to get used to that. The issue is when news station logos start appearing on the sides of them! LOL!! Wait two of them collide and fall taking out a couple first responders. And, it's all on 'you-tube'. What a Country!!!

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