Law Would Let Authorities Take Down Drones

Law Would Let Authorities Take Down Drones
File photo by Richard Unten/Flickr

Hobbyist drones flying over brush fires have hampered the efforts of first responders multiple times so far this season. 

The latest incident came during last week's dramatic North Fire in San Bernardino County, which burned cars and shut down the 15 freeway after firefighters had to pause their aerial efforts in the face of possible drone interference.

Authorities worry that drones could become lodged in jets and propellers and bring down water-dropping aircraft. Experts say that hitting a drone could be worse than the "bird strikes" that have become dangers to jetliners.

Today state Assemblyman Mike Gatto and Sen. Ted Gaines announced a bill that would allow first responders to jam, hack or otherwise take down drones "in the course of firefighting, air ambulance or search-and-rescue operations," according to a statement from Gatto's office:

Senate Bill 168 grants immunity to any emergency responder who damages an unmanned aircraft in the course of firefighting, air ambulance or search-and-rescue operations.

"Drone operators are risking lives when they fly over an emergency situation," Gatto, who represents Glendale and northeast L.A., said. "The Legislature needs to send a signal that our society simply won’t put up with this nonsense. It's very frustrating to see drone operators once again disrupt firefighting efforts in the Cajon Pass."

Gatto and Gaines are also behind a bill that would increase fines and open up possible jail time for idiots that fly drones over active fires.

Their latest legislation, however, favors "jamming" or hacking technology that could disable drones that interfere with emergency situations. But a spokesman for Gatto says that, under the proposed language, the devices could be taken down via nonlethal weapons such as beanbag rounds.

As written, the law would not allow cops to try to block drones from observing controversial police situations, the spokesman said.

Gatto says, "Preventing our first responders from being held liable for responsibly destroying a drone flown over an emergency site will keep Californians safe."

Send feedback and tips to the author. Follow Dennis Romero on Twitter at @dennisjromero. Follow L.A. Weekly News on Twitter at @laweeklynews.

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