Drones reports arise in Dodge, Saunders counties
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Drones reports arise in Dodge, Saunders counties

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Drones have been sighted in Fremont and Dodge and Saunders counties.

But when it comes to drone sightings, Fremont Police Lt. Ed Watts has a couple of admonitions:

Don’t shoot them down.

Don’t call 911.

If you wish to report a sighting, call a law enforcement agency’s general number.

Since December, unusual sightings of drones — small, unmanned aircraft — have been reported in Colorado.

The mysterious formations of drones reportedly crossed the border into Nebraska, the Lincoln Journal Star reported earlier this month.

This week, Fremont Police and the Dodge and Saunders sheriff’s departments — all — have had calls of drone sightings.

Callers have reported anywhere from one to 40 drones.

Many such sightings haven’t been substantiated — meaning law enforcement personnel have not personally seen them.

But the calls have been coming.

Since Monday, the Fremont Police Department has had three calls about drone sightings, Watts said.

Two sightings were reported to have occurred outside city limits and another in the 1100 block of North D Street.

None of these sightings have been substantiated, Watts said.

Deputy Brian Kottich of the Dodge County Sheriff’s Department said dispatchers have five different dates of when callers reported seeing drones.

The numbers of drones spotted at a time have ranged from one to 40 — none of which were seen by deputies.

On Tuesday, a caller reported seeing 40 drones near North Bend.

Kottich expressed a bit of skepticism.

“That one was kind of unbelievable,” he noted.

Another sighting was reported having occurred near the Scribner Air Base.

Saunders County has had sightings as well, said Sheriff Kevin Stukenholtz.

Earlier this week, a citizen in the Wann area, north of Ashland, called and reported seeing 10 drones.

A Saunders County deputy in the area spotted what he believed were closer to three drones that night, Stukenholtz said.

On Tuesday, a television camera man and reporter accompanied a deputy and spotted drones near Mead.

“They estimated they were about 100 feet in the air,” Stukenholtz said. “Our deputy and some of the reporting parties believe some of them maybe have a wingspan of about 6 foot.”

Stukenholtz said spotters, who are well versed in technology, have said any drones of that size and — with some of the capabilities they have — would be very expensive.

People calling the Saunders County Sheriff’s Department want to know if the drones are privately or government-owned or if they are being used for illegal purposes.

“There’s just a lot of unanswered questions,” Stukenholtz said.

The subject of drones arose during a routine meeting of Nebraska Sheriff’s Association on Wednesday, he said.

Officials are getting many reports of drones.

And what may have begun as an initial deployment of drones now may be resulting in copycat deployments or individuals sending up drones for attention, Stukenholtz said.

Whatever the case, area officials aren’t the only ones fielding calls about drones.

The Associated Press reported that officials in Hall, Buffalo and Adams counties in central Nebraska received reports of drones flying overhead Sunday evening.

“Grand Island Police Capt. Jim Duering said drones spotted by officers flying over Grand Island didn’t appear to be involved in criminal activity,” the AP reported. “Duering said the drones appeared to be large, commercial models that would require a license to operate.

“Hastings Police Capt. Mike Doremus said a pilot reported seeing several drones flying in a grid formation about 2 miles west of Hastings around 9 p.m. Sunday.”

The Federal Aviation Administration states that sightings of unmanned aircraft have increased dramatically in the past two years and it now receives more than 100 reports each month.

There is a positive side to drones.

“Civil drones could be used for many good things if operated professionally, for example — professional aerial photography, mapping, aerial survey, infrastructure inspection, agriculture, search and rescue,” said Chenyu “Victor” Huang, assistant professor in the Aviation Institute at the University of Nebraska at Omaha.

Throughout the country, law enforcement agencies have been using their own drones to help gather evidence or for surveillance purposes.

Kottich said the Dodge County Sheriff’s Department uses a drone to take photos of skid marks and where vehicles came to rest after an accident.

It also has a night vision feature which can be used to help locate suspects or someone who’s lost.

“We’re fairly new into it,” he said of the drone usage.

The department did get a call to use the drone to help locate a suspect in a recent stolen vehicle case, but a helicopter was used instead.

“We used it daily during the flooding to check the Platte River,” he said, adding that it worked out well.

Kottich confirmed that area spotters haven’t been seeing the sheriff’s department’s drone.

“It’s not ours,” he said.

He and other law enforcement officials are asking residents not to report a suspicious drone sighting by calling 911.

“We’re seeing the same news stories everybody else is and we need to keep our 911 lines open for situations that require an emergency response,” Watts said. “We’re aware of all the news stories, but we haven’t heard anything and no one has reported anything to us that the drones are a threat or are involved in criminal activity.”

Watts pointed out the situation faced by the authorities.

“We’re in the same predicament that other law enforcement agencies are — we can receive the complaints, but we don’t have any resources to identify what the drones are or what they’re involved in or who’s operating them,” Watts said. “So we want people to report it, we just don’t want them to call 911, because all we can do is follow up on the complaint.”

Those wishing to report a sighting may call the police department at 402-727-2677.

“We will follow up on the report and we will forward whatever information we collect to the proper authorities,” Watts said.

Stukenholtz asks Saunders County residents to call 402-443-1000. The general number for the Dodge County Sheriff’s office is 402-727-2702.

Kottich and Watts said people shouldn’t do anything to the drones they see.

“We want to remind people that per (Fremont) city code 6-408 it’s unlawful to discharge any gun or pistol within the city limits and, therefore, any person shooting any type of firearm at a drone can face criminal charges,” Watts said.

Huang encourages all drone users to be familiar with the FAA regulations for flying a drone and said a variety of resources can be accessed online or from training agencies or universities.

“Operating drones around airplanes, helicopters and airports is dangerous and illegal,” the FAA states. “Unauthorized operators may be subject to stiff fines and criminal charges, including possible jail time.”

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