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Stefanie Sekich has dealt with drones near her home in San Carlos on three occasions. The first time, she was outside enjoying a glass of wine and didn’t think much of it. She thought it was probably some neighborhood kids with a new toy. The second time occurred on a Friday night. She had her headphones on and was listening to music. The buzzing approach was inaudible, and she didn’t realize the drone was present until she noticed it above her. When she made eye contact with the drone it zipped away.
The recent third drone visit was the one that unsettled her. Sekich was sitting on her couch in pajamas when she sensed something looking at her.
“I looked out of the corner of my eye and I see it,” she explained. “So, I basically pretend I don’t see it, and I go back and keep looking at my phone. Meanwhile, I was watching it out of the corner of my eye. It was literally, at one point, trying to get under the [outside porch] overhang. That’s how close it was. So, then I got up and I put my hands on my hips and I was gesturing, like, ‘I see you,’ and then it did this weird, cutesy move. It was like it acknowledged ‘I see you. You see me.’ Then it just kind of stood there, and then it zoomed off really fast.”
Later that night, Sekich debated whether or not she was over-analyzing the situation. She went through different scenarios in her head trying to decide if she was overreacting. The next morning she woke up to a news report about residents in San Carlos complaining about drones. The report included a claim that a “college-aged daughter” had been spied on. The San Diego Police Department had issued a warning. She called the police to file a report about the drone in her backyard the previous night. The police directed her to the Federal Aviation Administration.
“So, I call a guy, and he’s so sweet,” Sekich said. "He basically says to me, ‘I am so sick of them giving away this number.’ I go, ‘Why?’ He’s, like, ‘I’m the air-traffic controller.’ He’s sitting in an air-traffic control tower down at Gillespie Field. Gillespie is, like, two minutes away from our house. He said his job with drones was that when somebody buys a drone, they call and register it with him."
Frustrated, Sekich called back the police and asked to speak with a supervisor. The supervisor apologized and told her that the technology is so new that they really have only one formal policy in place on what to do — and that is to call the FAA.
When asked about drone enforcement, SDPD officer Joshua Hodge admitted that “everything is still kind of new” and he didn’t have a concrete answer for how the police deal with the complaints. He was able to shed some light on one of the potential crimes committed by the operator of the drone on that evening, though.
Sekich’s home in San Carlos isn’t too far from Gillespie Field. The operator likely committed a crime by operating a drone, without a special permit, within five miles of an airport. Due to the nature of the peeping-Tom allegations, Hodge considers it likely that they “didn’t go through those steps.”
To add to residents’ frustrations, there are definitive laws that protect airborne drones from being knocked out of the sky. So, even if one is hovering at about 12 feet, in your backyard, and spying on you (as was the case with Sekich’s experience) you can’t shoot it down with a nearby rock.
Help may be on the horizon, though. This past April, the San Diego City Council unanimously voted in support of making some federal drone regulations part of the city’s municipal code. In short, local law enforcement can now issue citations for drone operators who break the current federal laws. A state bill spearheaded by senator Hannah-Beth Jackson has also been proposed. The law would create a no-fly zone over private property from ground level up to 350 feet. Violators flying without the property owner’s permission could face charges of trespassing.