MILPITAS (KPIX 5) – Drones are becoming a growing concern among jail guards in Northern California. That’s because people may try to use them to smuggle in drugs.
Right now there’s no law banning drones flying over prisons, but Santa Clara County is worried about them making drug deliveries at the Elmwood Correctional Facility in Milpitas.
Jail guards figured drones have been delivering contraband at the sprawling 62-acre complex for some time but they did not have proof until now.
A month ago a small drone crashed inside the jail perimeter. Investigators said they found a package of meth on board.
Santa Clara County Supervisor Cindy Chavez learned about the drug drop on a recent tour and now wants the county to look into banning drone flights over the jail. She’s says she’s not anti-drone.
“No,” she laughs. “I’m anti methamphetamines being dropped into our jail. And I’m anti having knives and other weapons dropped into our jail.”
KPIX 5 wanted to see just how easy it is to pull off something like that and found it is easy to modify a drown for contraband deliveries.
After watching a few YouTube videos and gathering up some basic materials, it took KPIX less than 10 minutes to prep some fake contraband for flight.
In no time the package was mounted onto Skydrone 5 and was flying at an altitude of 400 feet above the ground, going 20 mph.
Some models can be controlled from miles away.
Chavez doesn’t think an ordinance will stop somebody who really wants to get drugs into the jail.
“I do not, but I do think that we can have procedures for addressing that, and that’s what we’re going to be asking the staff to take a look at,” she said.
Mickey Osterreicher with National Press Photographer’s Association is one of the country’s leading authorities on drone laws. He says the FAA’s federal laws preempt any local ordinances.
However, any ban that Santa Clara County passes would likely stand, until someone challenged it in court. Osterreicher says the county could always modify an existing law, instead of writing one from scratch.
“I think if they look at whatever law they have against bringing contraband into a prison, I think they could probably modify those regulations somewhat, rather than create a technology specific one that specifically talks about the use of drones,” he said.