The Riverina Police District has continued urging residents to continually report suspicious drone incidents on private properties.
It comes after police received a number of reports from residents in the past few weeks, particularly around the Junee area.
Junee Police Inspector David Dechene said that “intelligence does suggest they use them [drones] to identify stock”.
“We’d like to know when drones are seen, particularly over rural properties,” he said.
“In relation to rural crime – stealing stock and so forth.”
While the NSW Bureau of Crime Statistics and Research does not have data for rural crime using remotely piloted aircraft systems or drones, its data for stock theft across a number of Riverina LGAs are in the higher categories.
The rate per 100,000 population for stock theft in the Coolamon LGA in 2017–18 is 90.8 – considered to be in the highest category.
Junee and Cootamundra-Gundagai rates are 77.4 and 70.8, respectively.
Wagga’s rate meanwhile is 26.5, which is considered to be in the second lowest category.
Martin Honner, who runs a mixed-farming property in Junee, said that in the past four weeks, there had been half a dozen incidents related to unsolicited drone activities above his property.
“This includes being the victim of rural crime,” Mr Honner said.
“We’ve had losses and they’ve been reported discretely to police – it’s been documented a number of times.”
Mr Honner said he believed these losses were the result of drones surveying his property, mostly after dark.
“I say there’s an element of people doing it to be annoying while others are looking to see what livestock or assets that they can come back to take,” he said.
“It’s usually at odd hours of the night.
“On some occasions, we see one or two drones very low and we watching them hover over our house and shed.
“There can’t be any logical reasons why someone would fly over your property to film and photograph with your permission.”
The longtime farmer, whose property is about 800ha, said he also had drones above his vehicle while he was driving, saying “it’s just harassment and a nuisance”.
While he continues to report incidents to police, he said the Junee area needs more policing resources.
“Eventually someone would get caught, but at the moment there’s a lack of police numbers in rural areas,” Mr Honner said.
“Despite what the minister [Troy Grant] tells us, you only have to look at the letters on the police vehicles to see that there’s no 24-hour police presence here.
“The fact that Junee is a town and has a jail, it’s ridiculous that Junee has to rely on police 30 minutes away.”
In May this year, the Civil Aviation Safety Authority released its review of aviation safety regulation of remotely piloted aircraft systems.
The report shows that that since September 2016, numbers across key measures of drone activities have increased.
This includes the number of operators obtaining commercial certificates.
“The rapid adoption of remotely piloted aircraft systems (RPAS) technology in new and innovative ways has meant the RPA aviation sector is growing exponentially in Australia,” the report states.
The Riverina Police District’s Detective Inspector Darren Cloake said the increasing ease of access to drones have made the issue more prominent.
“It’s an area that’s emerging – the influence of new technology on the general community is something we need to take into account,” he said.
“The increase in drones and regulations catching up makes it harder to differentiate between someone doing the right thing and someone who isn’t.”
While the Wagga LGA has fewer reports than Junee, Detective Inspector Cloake said he believed “it highlights some under reporting”.
“Certainly there are some concerns about drones being used for spotting for livestock and the like, and that’s a concern,” he said.
“If we detect offences, we investigate them like any other matter.
“We’d asks those people to make detailed notes of where they saw the drones, the types of drones and look for any vehicles that were there.
“The maximum penalty is $1050, so you don’t want too many of them.”
“That whole workshop [Eurongilly] was the trigger point for some unrest that were happening out there with stock theft and people noticing drones,” Detective Inspector Cloake said.
“Because we’re mostly in a rural setting, this emerging technology has made it so that people can surveyed their crops remotely with little to no costs.
“For farmers, rather than spending time, they can just send a drone up to survey their cattle or look for breaches around their security.”
He encouraged residents who do use drones for recreational or farming purposes to “make themselves fully aware of the rules”.
“It’s very easy to make a quick inquiry with CASA or speak to any of the training bodies around,” he said.
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