Prairie Village mayor breaks tie to advance proposed drone regulations for final consideration

The Prairie Village City Council in the coming weeks will consider final adoption for a new ordinance that would regulate the use of drones in the city. Photo credit Thoroughly Reviewed.

Mayor Eric Mikkelson broke a tie vote at a Prairie Village city council committee meeting on Monday to send a proposed drone ordinance to the governing body for final consideration in the coming weeks.

Prairie Village has been looking into whether and how to regulate the use of drones over the city since 2017, when a woman hired a drone pilot to fly a banner over the crowd at the Prairie Village Jazz Festival in hopes of reconnecting with a potential lover interest. That incident, which spooked some in the crowd, combined with a handful of reports about drones of unknown origin hovering over residents’ properties, prompted the city council to look into an ordinance to regulate where and how drones can be operated in the city.

The draft that came before the city council committee of the whole Monday included updates from the early proposed ordinance language the group considered in January. Under the language discussed by the council Monday, the ordinance would prohibit the recreational use of drones:

  • in a manner that is “offensive to a reasonable expectation of safety from bodily harm” to a person not involved in the drone’s operation
  • over event venues where more than 100 people are gathered, unless the organizer of the event has given consent
  • over property the drone operator does not own
  • for the purposes of surveillance
  • while the operator is under the influence of alcohol or drugs
  • if a drone is equipped when any kind of weapon or fireworks.

The ordinance does allow for the operation of drones for “recreational or hobby purposes in a city-owned park so long as the operator and UAV comply with all other requirements.”

There was widely shared sentiment among members of the council that the city should work to protect the privacy of its residents from intrusion from unmanned aerial vehicles and from potential surveillance. But questions about enforcement continued to prove a sticking point, with a number of councilmembers raising questions about how police would enforce an ordinance when it is so easy for drones to simply fly away before an officer could arrive on the scene.

Violations of the ordinance would be categorized as a Class C misdemeanor, which are punishable by up to a month in jail and a fine up of up $500.

Police Chief Tim Schwartzkopf noted that the ordinance was not something that he believed the department would have reason to use on frequent occasion, though he said he did not see any problems with adding the ordinance to the books.

“Would it be something we could use in our toolbox? Yes. Do I see us using it very often? No,” Schwartzkopf said.

Councilmembers Chad Andrew Herring, Jori Nelson, Tucker Poling, Dan Runion, Ted Odell and Terrence Gallagher voted in favor of advancing the ordinance for final consideration. Councilmembers Serena Schermoly, Ron Nelson, Andrew Wang, Sheila Myers, Brooke Morehead and Courtney McFadden voted against advancing it. Mikkelson cast the tie breaking vote to send it to a council meeting for consideration of final adoption.

Mission Hills became the first city in the Shawnee Mission area to regulate use of drones when it passed an ordinance in 2016.