As More Drones Hover Over Nashville Crowds, Police Pursue Violators By Chopper, On Foot

Jul 7, 2017

Nashville police cited a local drone operator with reckless endangerment for flying over the city’s huge fireworks crowd this week. Yet several other drones were spotted in violation of state and federal rules — and got away.

Metro police say tracking down drone operators is an increasing challenge. It’s one that typically falls to the department’s Hazardous Devices Unit, best known for examining suspicious packages and responding to bomb calls during special events.

Now these officers also look skyward.

“We’re constantly looking for them,” Sgt. David Haywood says. “Part of our plan is looking into the sky … sometimes our helicopter that ends up patrolling the air space above our special events might pick them out. Sometimes our officers on the ground might pick them out.”

Haywood points to federal guidelines that say drones shouldn’t fly over crowds, which he says rules out basically any downtown event — and even regular weeknights — for downtown drone usage.

Tennessee law, meanwhile, has become explicit in making it a crime to fly over ticketed events or within a fireworks fallout zone.

Yet an officer noticing a drone is only a start. Haywood is frank in describing how difficult they are to track.

“Let’s put it this way: If we’re able to locate the operator, we do try to go and have conversations with them,” he says.

Officers determine whether to issue a misdemeanor reckless endangerment citation. Two have gone that way recently.

On July 4, a drone landed in the downtown crowd. And during CMA Fest, one flew over a paid concert at Nissan Stadium. While the operator was far out of sight, police tracked him down. In both cases, Haywood credits the police helicopter for its assistance.