Drone safety: rise in popularity comes with rise in safety, security concerns

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Drones: they're not simply popular Christmas gifts for tech hobbyists; they're also useful tools for people in a variety of professions.

Offering easier than ever access to coveted eyes in the sky, drones go places we can't, and see things we won't.

But that potential to go anywhere and see anything, combined with their great popularity, also makes drones a risk to privacy and security.

That's why law enforcement and professional drone operators in the Lowcountry are on the same page when it comes to responsible and legal drone use.

It's not uncommon for Inspector Chip Googe to routinely inspect the Mount Pleasant Police Department's drone equipment.

“This is the camera. It shoots in 4K video,” says Googe as he shows off the gadget. "It's basically a hard plastic.”

The department purchased their drone about a year ago.

Googe explained, "Is very important for us to have everything that we need to keep this community as safe as possible."

So far, the drone's been used for town events, a missing person's case, and when officers say two theft suspects ran from them at Town Centre.

"The speed at which we can get it in the air and cover is a lot better than officers just walking on the ground,” said Googe.

The department's drone is one of more than 816,000 registered in South Carolina with the Federal Aviation Administration.

"I don't see this is something that's going to go away. I think this is going to become a cultural norm,” added Googe.

That's why Googe wants you to be aware. If you see something suspicious, say something.

"If something is below your tree line in your yard or over your home or near a window buzzing, that is something that you need to call us and let us take care of."

So far, he says his department has only received a handful of concerns. Other local agencies have had few or none at all. None have been illegal.

However, across the country it is happening. Aaron Foote of Utah is accused of taking video of people in their homes with his drone.

"As drones become more prevalent socially, privacy of course is a concern,” added Tom Fernandez of Skyview Aerial Solutions.

Fernandez says breaking the rules could cost you.

"For recreational and commercial users of drones who do not follow FAA guidelines, there are either civil fines and for commercial users they can have their license removed,” he explained.

You must fly at or below 400 feet, never fly over groups of people, never fly over stadiums or sports events and never fly near other aircraft -- especially near airports.

But in South Carolina, the sky is the limit. There are no state laws governing the recreational use of drones.

"There's always going to be someone who uses, whether it's a drone or the internet, for malicious intent," Fernandez said. "Unfortunately we cannot always anticipate for those, but we can educate hobbyists and commercial users about the responsible use of drones."

It’s a goal Inspector Googe says will be even more important as drone popularity continues to reach new heights.

“It is a top priority for us as a police department."

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