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Locals complain of drones "peeping" into their windows at night

Unmanned Aircraft Systems are creating an unwelcome buzz around Hillcrest.
Photo credit:
Government Technology

You hear a whirring outside your window at night or see small lights suspended in mid-air, these are not UFOs, but UAS's, and it has some in Hillcrest and surrounding areas creeped-out. 

Drones, also known as small Unmanned Aircraft Systems (UAS), are perfectly legal, but have Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) guidelines for use especially if they fly near an airport.

Several neighbors in the Midtown area are concerned that these drones are peering into their windows at night, the machines then fly away after being noticed. 

“We have seen it 3x times now outside of our windows," posted one local on the Nextdoor application, "usually around 11 pm - 12:30 am. In fact I saw / heard it last night around midnight (bedroom window). On a different occasion it hovered onto our bedroom balcony where our sliding glass door was open, clearly fishing for a reaction. When the door was shut, it hovered to the other bedroom window. Super creepy!!!!”

Kris White who lives in Hillcrest North also posted that a drone with a camera was “hovering over us in the back yard.”

She continues to say it came out of nowhere. “When I went to get a hose to hose it, it went away.”

White says she reported the incident to San Diego Police Officer Surwilo as a “drone intruder.” San Diego Gay and Lesbian News contacted Officer Surwilo, but have yet to receive a response. 

Another neighbor, Teddie Tomaselli said, “I also posted two days ago about a drone hovering literally right outside my window.”

There are two types of drone pilots: The commercial flyer and the recreational user or hobbyist, both have their own rules. 

Up until about a year ago, commercial drones could only be flown by someone with a pilot's license.  

People who fly them for fun fall under the FAA's "Special Rule for Model Aircraft" which is more lenient than for professionals. The FAA need not issue special permission to fly these, but if they are over 0.55 pounds and less than 55 pounds, they do need to be registered. 

However, all pilots need to notify an air tower before launch if they are within five miles of an airport.

Also, all flyers must operate their machines in daylight hours (there are some exceptions to twilight flying). Drones cannot fly above 400 feet and they need to be within the pilot’s sight at all times, neither can they fly over groups of people.

Unlike their professional counterparts, the casual pilot registration is voluntary if they meet guidelines and the user is 13-years-old or older or have someone of that age fill out the request for them. Registration is $5. 

Local law enforcement works hand-in-hand with the FAA and is given a set of criteria when investigating a complaint. They use the acronym  D.R.O.N.E.(see sidebar) in filing a report. 

And then local police only get involved if that drone is doing illegal activity, such as filming someone in the shower or "peeping" in through a window. 

If the UAS is simply flying around they do not get involved, that is the FAA's responsibility. 

“The federal regulations in place are administrative, which means local law enforcement does not have the authority to enforce them,” said Lt. Colonel John Valencia, director of the city’s Office of Homeland Security.in a report from The San Diego Union-Tribune. “Currently, law enforcement can ask a reckless user to stop, but has no authority to issue a citation.”  

But is it okay to strike down a drone if it is in your "airspace?" This seems to be the most asked question, but also the hardest to answer. 

Some say yes, but others are more cautious. In 2015 a pilot won his case against a neighbor who took down his custom-built drone. although it must be noted, that man used a shotgun to do so.

According to California Civil Code 1708.8. "A person is liable for physical invasion of privacy when the person knowingly enters onto the land or into the airspace above the land of another person without permission or otherwise commits a trespass in order to capture any type of visual image, sound recording, or other physical impression of the plaintiff engaging in a private, personal, or familial activity and the invasion occurs in a manner that is offensive to a reasonable person."

California is currently trying to amend drone laws and legislation. In San Diego, Poway was one of the first cities in the nation to ban drones during wildfires or other emergencies because they might interfere with official aircraft. 

The drone issue is a complicated, but to Hillcrest residents and nearby neighborhoods, it's also a scary one. 

"On Saturday drone with Camera was hovering near our North windows at 3535 1st Avenue." posted one Nextdoor subscriber. "Looked down at courtyard in apartment building next to our building. Operator was sitting in chair. Window peeping charge?"

If you feel your privacy is being compromised by a drone you can call San Diego Police at (619) 531-2000 or 858-484-3154.

If you feel the drone is not adhering to FAA rules you can contact them at 1 (866) 835-5322