Columbia talks drones, dope - Republic-Times | News

Columbia talks drones, dope

By on October 11, 2017 at 12:26 pm

Columbia Police Chief Jerry Paul addressed the Columbia City Council Committee of the Whole on Monday night with requests to change the way local law enforcement handles both minor marijuana offenses and drones.

In response to recent incidents in which drones were observed operating over large events, Paul is seeking an enforceable ordinance.

“Most recently we had a drone flying over Songs4Soldiers, over the actual crowd,” Paul said. “We sent a police officer on an ATV to try to follow it back to the source, but really, even if we made it back to the source, we have FAA guidelines that regulate the unmanned drones but we really don’t have anything other than that.”

Paul added Columbia High School has also had drones fly illegally over football games, hovering over the bleachers to record the crowds.

“They (Columbia School District) are on board to create some sort of direction so people know they can’t just bring their drones anywhere,” he said. 

With the guidance of city attorney Terry Brucker, administrators created the draft of an ordinance that would limit where and when unmanned aircraft can fly within the city’s boundaries.

Aldermen Jeff Huch and Mary Ellen Niemietz questioned how such an ordinance, which would outlaw all unmanned aircraft activity within five miles of an airport, would affect the Columbia RC Flying Club, which flies remote controlled planes from a special field in the bottoms near Columbia’s Sackman Field Airport.

Paul said his concern is primarily with flying drones over large events without authorization, and not as much with hobbyists.

The owners of Denali Aerial, a St. Louis company that flies drones for customers around the immediate area and beyond, spoke about their concerns.

“Essentially the way this is written now, it would put us out of business in this area,” said co-owner Johnny Scott. 

Bruckert said he could make modifications to the draft ordinance that would not unnecessarily restrict the operations of FAA-licensed businesses like Denali Aerial. 

“Really what we want is people to just not fly drones over the large crowds for fear that they could malfunction and fall on somebody and hurt them,” Paul said.

The penalty for violations of the proposed ordinance would range from a minimum fine of $100 for the first offense to a maximum of $750 and seizure of the drone for subsequent offenses.  

Once the ordinance has been drafted, it will be discussed again by the committee before being sent to the city council for a vote.

Paul also addressed minor marijuana offenses as defined in the state’s Cannabis Control Act, which decriminalizes possession of 10 grams of marijuana or less and related paraphernalia. 

The Monroe County Board at their Oct. 2 meeting passed an ordinance setting a fine of $150 for a first offense, with each subsequent arrest being subject to a $100 increase, up to $1,000, with a provision to permit the proper use of physician-prescribed medical marijuana.

Paul proposed a measure that would allow Columbia police officers to enforce the county’s ordinance rather than the state statute. Doing so will primarily benefit Monroe County State’s Attorney Chris Hitzemann and his staff, Paul said, by reducing the amount of paperwork and tracking of offenders required by the state. The new county ordinance also earmarks $105 of each fine for local administrative fees and law enforcement funds. 

“Some of the money that was going to the state before, that’s staying in the county,” Paul said. “That’s something that the civil offense is not doing right now,” Paul said.

The committee gave approval to Bruckert to draft an intergovernmental agreement with Monroe County as well as a city ordinance.

The results of a special census conducted in portions of Columbia over the summer are in.

The census resulted in an increase of 1,161 residents, bringing the city’s new population to 10,868.

“Results from the special census will increase Columbia’s revenue from the state, based on our increased population,” Columbia Mayor Kevin Hutchinson said in his monthly mayor’s report.

Columbia will receive an estimated $180,000 to $190,000 each year in additional revenue  until the new population numbers are certified from the 2020 census.  

The city will receive nearly $1.7 million annually in state revenue to help fund public services such as street maintenance, police and emergency medical services. Offsetting the $105,346 spent for the special census, the city will net more than $500,000 in additional revenue over the next three to four years.

In other city news, Columbia Senior Center site coordinator Pat Stumpf announced the center has moved into a new home in the lower level of Immaculate Conception Church, 411 Palmer Road. 

Columbia seniors previously met inside Columbia City Hall for food, fun and fellowship. 

For more information, call 618-514-0698.

The senior center moved into Columbia City Hall in 2011 on a temporary basis when it had to abruptly leave its prior location. 

Since then, city officials said its staff has grown, and so has the city’s need for space in city hall.

(Corey Saathoff contributed information for this article.)


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Andrea F.D. Saathoff

Andrea is a graduate of Gibault High School and the University of Missouri School of Journalism, the University of Missouri Harry S Truman School of Public Affairs and Southern Illinois University Edwardsville College of Education. She lives in Columbia with her husband and their twin toddler sons. When she isn’t cheering on St. Louis Cardinals baseball or riding the emotional roller coaster of Mizzou Tigers football, she enjoys attending and participating in the many family events the county has to offer.
email: andrea@republictimes.net