Friday morning, during training exercises, a drone owned by the Montgomery County Sheriff’s Office crashed into the waters of Lake Conroe. Divers from the Montgomery County Precinct 1 Dive Team spent much of the day searching the bottom of Lake Conroe for the almost $300,000 drone helicopter.

The drone, which was purchased by Montgomery County in 2011, was almost entirely funded by Homeland Security Grants specifically designated for the purchase of drones.

The Montgomery County Sheriff’s Office selected the 29 pound 7 foot helicopter from Vanguard Industries of Spring, Texas.

Weighing in at 29 pounds, the drone has been used very little since its purchase, due to recent FAA regulations that limited the weight of unmanned drones to 25 pounds.

Congressman Brady, who was present when the drone was first unveiled in 2011, commended Sheriff Gage for his “aggressive enforcement of public safety in Montgomery County,” and said the Shadow Hawk was further evidence of that. The Congressman further pointed out that Montgomery County is one of the 25 fastest growing in the United States and is mostly unincorporated, challenging Sheriff Gage with the policing of a large area.

While at the unveiling, Brady saw a demonstration of the Shadow Hawk by Vanguard months ago and was impressed with its flexibility and cost effectiveness. According to Brady, the device costs about $40 per hour to operate, versus $500 per hour for a manned helicopter.

The drone was mainly purchased to assist SWAT Teams in their operations. On site, Swat members will often find themselves in situations where obstacles and structures blind them to the dangers ahead. A drone can assist them in mapping out danger zones in a building’s layout, such as doors, windows, and any other possible obstructions or hiding places.  Although the drone’s jet engine is not quite as stealthy as one might assume (some liken it to a flying lawnmower), the drone’s video feed can still be an invaluable tool, giving the operator heat sensing equipment which would also prove useful in any search and rescue operations.

Some organizations such as Equusearch have used drones since 2006 for search and rescue operations. In May of searchers spent days looking for the little red haired child that vanished in Liberty County. One of the drones flew over a small pond and detected what looked like a blotch of red in close to the side of the green moss covered pond. Texas Rangers immediately ordered DPS helicopters to fly the pond to see if they came up with the same result. Having to fly much higher than the drone made it difficult, but eventually a Texas Ranger noticed the rotor wash was clearing the scum and ordered the helicopter to use a sweep motion to clear it. That was when they found little Devon. That find was one of more than a dozen finds with the drones since 2005.

In February the Federal Aviation Administration ordered EquuSearch to cease the use of their drones.

Last Monday Texas EquuSearch filed a lawsuit in a Washington, D.C., appeals court says there is no basis in law to prohibit the operation of model aircraft for humanitarian search and rescue activities.

The lawsuit says that Texas EquuSearch’s use of drones falls outside FAA restrictions that say model aircraft may not be operated “by persons or companies for business purposes.”

“This lawsuit seeks to confirm the right of organizations like Texas EquuSearch to use civilian drone technology for the benefit of our nation,” Brendan Schulman, an attorney for the group, said in a statement. “It is also incomprehensible, as a matter of policy and common sense, that the FAA would deem ‘illegal’ the use of a technology that can reunite missing people with their families, after decades of allowing the same technology to be used in the same way for recreational purposes.”

In the Colorado mountains, drones are often used in searches for lost hikers in the.

Drones are used in Houston for business also. Don Hirsch, owner of JAM Aviation uses drones to shoot commercials for automobile dealerships by using aerial drone photography. In addition real estate agents use JAM to show aerial photographs of properties they have listed.

Privacy concerns, mainly about people using drones to peer over neighbors’ fences, led the Texas Legislature to pass a law last year regulating the use of drones. Texas became one of a number of states adopting legislation restricting or outlawing the use of unmanned aircraft.

In the last session of the Texas Legislature House Bill 912 was passed dealing with drones in Texas and how they could be used.

Most notably, new Gov’t Code §423.003 makes the use of unmanned aircraft to “capture an image of an individual or privately owned real property in this state with the intent to conduct surveillance” a Class C misdemeanor. Likewise, the possession, disclosure, display, distribution, or other use of an image captured in violation of the law is also against the law. Gov’t Code §423.004. Mere possession of an image is a Class C misdemeanor, while the disclosure, display, distribution or other use of the image increases the crime to a Class B misdemeanor. Id.

On the civil side, Gov’t Code §423.006 creates causes of action for owners or tenants of privately owned real property in Texas. Suits can now be brought to:
(1) enjoin a violation or imminent violation;

(2) recover a civil penalty ($5,000 for capturing an unlawful image and $10,000 for disclosure, display, distribution, or other use); or,

(3) recover actual damages if you are the individual captured in the unlawful image and if the image is disclosed, displayed or distributed with malice.

This is the law many need to watch as there are many such type aerial devices now on the market for the private citizen. Anyone purchasing these should take time to read the law before venturing to the air for photographs and aerial video. ‘





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  2. scratchnmyhead

    This has been mentioned re: several topics in different media today alone…..
    The criminals don’t have MORE rights than the law abiding citizen! We (U.S. citizens) ALL have the same rights and law enforcement / government does NOT have a right to infringe on ANY of them! This seems to be where the “argument” gets blurred. The ends DO NOT justify the means when the means violate our rights!

  3. spk

    So many of our (the law abiding citizens) rights have been violated in all areas of life in the last few decades, I guess I am used to it. The very worst are all the rights of criminals as opposed to the rights of decent people, but it’s in all areas of life I am observing. Sometimes I wonder how we got this way in the US. It has nothing to do with a certain political party, but has been going on in both for decades. People don’t understand honesty and integrity anymore. It’s put on the back burner.

  4. LocalDrifter

    New Assignment for the MCPR intern.

    Follow SPK around with video camera & catalog his travails marking precise GPS coordinates. Train a camera on each and every window of his domicile, curtained or not, and record record record, baby. Tail him into a public restroom and capture any audio he makes from the next stall over. He’ll explode within a week from trying to keep his water and bowels silent lest we discover how often and how long he stands or sits taking care of business even though “I am not hiding anything and… They won’t find anything to get me in trouble.” spk HAS to be up to no good somehow or else he’d be living in a glass house. It’d be 15 seconds before he’d behave like all the other subjects in the Creepy Camera Guy videos.

  5. scratchnmyhead

    Joker: EXACTLY I have a right to privacy and…..
    SPK: I’m not hiding anything either but it’s no one’s business.
    The USA is quickly becoming a police state and law enforcement is being allowed to violate our rights on a daily basis and no one seems to care. Criminal or law abiding citizen…
    We all have constitutional rights and I’m not giving mine up.

  6. Joker

    So it’s okay to put ordinary law abiding citizens under surveillance? That’s unconstitutional and disturbing that folks are ok with it. I’m sure the FAA regulation is in place for a reason. Probably so 29 pound drones don’t drop from the sky and kill someone. Just a thought.

  7. spk

    I am not hiding anything and I don’t care what they fly over my property. They won’t find anything to get me in trouble. They can take all the pictures they want. If Mr. Brady and other Mr. Congressmen are so interested in the county spending this money on this, they should try to, at least, make sure the money isn’t wasted because of law change. Aren’t they they the ones making the laws? How shameful that they applaud and encourage this and then let them change the laws?

  8. scratchnmyhead

    HELLO spk! How about our congressmen and women start protecting us from the police state that this country is becoming? That damn thing flies over my property, it will probably get shot out of the sky.

  9. spk

    Why doesn’t Mr. Brady and some of the other important people in Mont. Co. try to get the law changed so it can be flown again if found? To spend a half million or whatever on this and then laws are changed so the county can’t use it is ludicrous, isn’t it? Who is protecting us from things like this? Looks like Mr. Congressman could address the issue.

  10. nhirsch

    waste and stupidity to know know the law in the first place. an inexpensive DJI drone would be so much less expensive and likely do 90% of what they need it for. what do they need it for?

  11. Joker

    I hope they lost that piece of junk for good!! Let me get this straight…the FAA thinks it’s four pounds too heavy to fly….so you fly it anyway at lake Conroe and don’t know where or whom it landed on? “Aggressive enforcement of public safety in Montgomery County?” Having 29 pounds of surveillance equipment drop on your head that shouldn’t be in the sky im the first place is not taking public safety into consideration AT ALL!! If I did this I’d be arrested.

  12. yukonjack

    It is just like our GOVERMENT to allow our GOVERMENT
    To fund and help our law in forcemeat to get the equipment
    They need to help make there jobs safer and then OUTLAW THE DAMM THING and the worst part is
    It is at the bottom of lake Conroe .hop they find it
    Rather thin someone pulling it up with there rod and reel

  13. Pingback: MCSO DRONE CRASHES INTO LAKE CONROE | PolkScan Live Police Scanner, Covering Polk County, Tx

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