After story of drone shot down in Ascension, a closer look at rules, limits controlling the devices _lowres

Advocate file photo by Scott Clause -- Denham Springs councilman Rene Delahoussaye would like to curtail the use of drones

City councilmen in Denham Springs are hustling to pass a new ordinance prohibiting drones from flying over private property in time for the gift-giving season.

“We’re probably gonna have a lot of these things come Christmas,” said Councilman Rene Delahoussaye.

The primary concern is that the small, unmanned craft can carry cameras and take photos from the sky.

“It’s the new voyeur,” said Councilman Jeff Wesley.

Remote-controlled aircraft have been a subject of discussion across the country and the state recently. Earlier this year, a drone crashed into the University of Kentucky stadium before a game featuring the University of Louisiana at Lafayette, and an Ascension Parish man shot down a craft owned by his neighbor because his wife thought it was watching her. The drone operator in the Ascension case denied using the craft to surveil his neighbors, saying it was capable of only short flights and that it flew too high to film people.

Having heard of problems elsewhere and observing drones in the city, Denham Springs officials said it was time for the council to take up the issue.

They are still working on the proposal and it has not yet been officially introduced. However, Delahoussaye said it would prevent operators from flying over other people’s land without their permission. In addition to concerns about peeping Toms, the councilman expressed worry that a drone could crash-land on a person standing outside or into a home.

Property owners could still allow real estate agents, insurance adjustors and other people with legitimate reasons to take aerial photographs, said City Attorney Stephanie Bond Hulett, emphasizing that the language in the proposed ordinance has not been finalized.

Wesley, the former Denham Springs police chief, also wants the city to clearly explain when law enforcement can use the equipment. Though neither city police nor the Livingston Parish Sheriff’s Office own any drones, they can provide useful surveillance, such as during a SWAT raid, Wesley said.

He wants law enforcement to be able to use unmanned craft but only with permission from a court, such as a search warrant.

Hulett said the city would probably separate the matter of law enforcement drones into a separate ordinance proposal.

Drone regulation is an important issue, Mayor Gerard Landry said, but he wondered if the city should wait for more guidance from the state or federal government, since the city will have to comply with whatever laws they hand down.

At present, the Federal Aviation Administration does not require hobbyists with remote-controlled crafts to seek flight approval. It can fine dangerous operators up to $25,000 for infractions such as flying too close to people or airports.

Follow Steve Hardy on Twitter, @SteveRHardy.