MetroParks Cop Threatens Aerial Photographer with Confiscation in MI

Andrew Meyer

“We don’t allow these in the park. It’s a public safety issue.”

MetroParks Police interrupted a beautiful day at Kensington Metro Park in order to threaten Jonathan Hair.

Hair was about to launch his remote-controlled helicopter (also known as an RC Copter, or an unmanned aerial vehicle, UAV, and often referred to derisively as a drone) and film his friend riding a bicycle when two officers approached Hair and said his toy was not allowed in the park.

“If it takes off, hits someone in the head, we’re liable,” said one of the officers. Of course, that argument makes about as much sense as claiming that cars aren’t allowed at the park because the park could be held liable for a car accident.

When asked for a regulation, the second office admitted that the regulation being cited was related to aircraft, of which a model helicopter-sized UAV does not qualify.

When asked again for the law being cited, the officer threw his hands up. Instead of providing lawful authority for his actions, the officer instead called his lieutenant, and demanded that Hair show some ID. Calm as a Zen Master, Jonathan Hair refused to provide ID, as he was not being accused of a crime, and also refused to stop filming when asked, as he was in a public area. After Hair’s casual refusal to bend to routine police intimidation the officer asked where his vehicle was parked, likely in an attempt to ID him and levy some sort of fine. The officer then asked if Hair had paid to get into the park.

Enter MetroParks Lieutenant Jeff Brown, who told Hair that the officers would confiscate his toy RC copter if Hair tried to fly it. Lieutenant Brown also compared the miniscule danger of model aircraft to unleashed dogs, which Brown’s department regulates, albeit with leash laws that are actually on the books.

“You can’t control that all the time, and you can’t tell me that you do,” said the lieutenant, who admitted that there was no rule or regulation preventing people from flying UAVs in the park.

Several other government agencies have tried enforcing no-fly laws that don’t really exist, including National Parks Service rangers at the Grand Canyon. In court however, agencies like the MetroParks police are likely to get handed a ruling similar to what the FAA received recently. The FAA tried to shut down UAVs without an actual law to rely on, but without a law, law enforcement agencies have no right to police UAVs. While some cities and states have recently passed laws that prohibit the flying of UAVs, these laws will still run into strong challenges in court, especially when the UAVs are gathering news.

For anyone interested in MetroParks’s policy, Lieutenant Brown suggested calling MetroParks Deputy Director George Phifer at 1-800-477-2757. MetroParks operates several parks in Michigan, and is governed by the Huron-Clinton Metropolitan Authority.

Finally, hats off to Jonathan Hair, for keeping a calm manner, treating the aggressive officers with kindness, and knowing and protecting his rights.

For news tips on aerial photography and drones, contact Andrew Meyer, PINAC’s staff writer covering drone photography, the First Amendment, and more. Follow him on twitter @theandrewmeyer.


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