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Posts Tagged ‘Black Hills South Dakota’

DRONE-GUYKnown as “remotely piloted aircraft” or “RPAs” in military parlance, drones may well have a coming out party at this years 75th Sturgis rally.

Ellsworth Air Force Base is located approximately 10 miles northeast of Rapid City, South Dakota and about 30 miles from Sturgis. The 432nd Attack Squadron has 195 personnel dedicated to piloting drones to conduct surveillance.  It’s primarily focused on flying in foreign countries, but there are many different drones in the Air Force’s inventory and the question about use as a law enforcement tool during the Sturgis motorcycle rally was recently floated.

Drone_cover_imageI’m talking about something less threatening than the MQ-9 Reaper in the Sturgis sky, but something that will include live-feed video cameras, heat sensors and radar.

Advocates claim they can be used to quickly respond and solve medical problems, help untangle vandalism incidents, protect the hundreds of thousands of dollars of cash that transact each night with vendors, catch illegal behavior, and provide documentation for law enforcement.

Is 2015 the year of aerial drone surveillance during the Sturgis Rally?

20130515_drone2_33Well consider the fact that Arial land survey by drone is already in process in South Dakota.  The South Dakota School of Mines & Technology is training students to use drones for rescue and hostage situations and South Dakota currently has no Unmanned Aircraft Systems (UAS) Legislation preventing the skies from being used for drone flight.

And then if you look just across the state border to North Dakota, a family was arrested with the assistance of a Predator drone.  Rodney Brossart was sentenced to three years in prison, of which all but six months was suspended, for a June 2011 incident in which police attempted to arrest him over his failure to return three cows from a neighboring farm that had strayed on to his property.  Mr. Brossart’s sons were located by a border-surveillance Predator borrowed from Customs and Border Patrol (CBP), which enabled local police to safely apprehend them, according to local newspapers or as reported by the LA Times.

Still skeptical?  Here are some additional drone facts:

  • Between 2005 and 2012, the amount in contracts the federal government awarded for drones: at least $12 billion.
  • Number of companies that are now in the drone business: more than 1,000.
  • Number of private-sector and government requests to fly drones that the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) has approved since 2007: 1,428.
  • Number of police departments that have asked the FAA for permits to fly drones: 12.
  • Number of commercial drones that the FAA predicts will be flying in domestic airspace by 2017: 10,000.
  • Price of a drone-proof hoodie being sold by the British company Stealth Wear, which also offers drone-proof scarves and burqas: $481

The question of whether aerial surveillance requires a warrant is ambiguous, with some court rulings ­including a 1986 Supreme Court decision ­allowing warrantless surveillance, while other rulings have found it to be unconstitutional.

Unmanned-aircraft-Coming-to-a-sky-near-youThere was a time when aerial surveillance was so expensive that privacy was a minor issue. But now drones are relatively cheap and can be equipped with sophisticated sensors, so they can vacuum up large amounts of camera imagery and other data, in the same way that advances in computers and communications enable the NSA to collect huge amounts of data from telephones and the Internet.

Law enforcement will clearly advocate that drones support most all of the “unobjectionable” police raids.  However, how long will it be before networks of linked drones and computers “gain the ability to automatically track multiple motorcycles and bodies as they move around a city,” much as the cell phone network hands calls from one tower to the next. The authorities would then combine drone video and cell phone tracking to build up databases of people’s routine comings and goings—databases they can then mine for suspicious behavior.

drones-shropshire-gettyv2And here I thought states using federal highway safety grants to fund discriminatory Motorcycle-only checkpoints was government over reach.

Most people who ride and stay in Sturgis know they are being financially exploited and that today’s “hard-core” Sturgis rider is grayer, and is much better behaved.  None of this is new.  What is new, is the potential use of drone surveillance which is teetering on a privacy razor’s edge.

Note: Oregon’s HB 2710 defines a drone as an unmanned flying machine, not including model aircraft. The law allows a law enforcement agency to operate a drone if it has a warrant and for enumerated exceptions including for training purposes. It also requires that a drone operated by a public body be registered with the Oregon Department of Aviation (DOA), which shall keep a registry of drones operated by public bodies. The law grants the DOA rulemaking authority to implement these provisions. It also creates new crimes and civil penalties for mounting weapons on drones and interfering with or gaining unauthorized access to public drones. Under certain conditions a landowner can bring an action against someone flying a drone lower than 400 feet over their property.  In addition, Oregon was chosen as one of six UAS test sites by the FAA.   More UAS information HERE.

Photos courtesy of internet.

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posse_rushmoreWhy does the Federal government discriminate against motorcycles?  National Parks are the biggest offenders. 

A recent example is from a trip to Sturgis to visit the granite monolith of Presidents at Mount Rushmore.  You pull up to the facility entrance and you’ll notice signs of a $10 (Cars, Motorcycles, and RV’s) fee.  Clear thinking people will immediately notice that the price applies to a family of eight touring the Black Hills of SD in a rusted out RV or two-up on a motorcycle.  Huh?  Talk about a rip off!

So, I sent an email to the U.S. Department of the Interior to get the discrimination scoop:

Dear Mr. Interior,

As a motorcyclist I feel discriminated against when visiting your fine monument.  I arrived over the summer to witness long lines of motorcycles, automobiles, vans, and RV’s packed with people eager to park and take photos of the stone Presidents.  To my shock I was required to pay a $10 fee just like all the other vehicles.  Yet, when my lovely “model” passenger informed the heavy soda drinking Park Ranger that we could not fit six people on the prize winning custom Black Harley-Davidson he just sneered and gave us $10 change from the Andrew Jackson…no sir not fair, not very fair at all…is it?

The attached photo (above) is of the posse who spent $80 to enter your facility on motorcycles.

Signed – Mac (Feeling ripped by the Department of the Interior)

The reply from the Interior’s head dude:

Dear Mr. Mac Rant,

Thank you for submitting an email on November 5, 2008, concerning your visit to Mount Rushmore National Memorial over the summer. The legislation that established Mount Rushmore National Memorial prohibits charging an entrance fee at the Memorial. No fees have been charged at the Memorial prior to the summer of 1997 when a parking fee was established.

This fee you reference is charged to pay for the cost of the construction and operation of the parking facility only. The new facility was necessary to accommodate the increased length of stay due to the new facilities now available at the Memorial. We determined after much effort that a federal appropriation to build the facility was not possible. Therefore, the National Park Service issued a concession contract for the design, construction and operation of a parking facility.

The concessionaire is allowed to collect a fee that will pay these costs. The concessionaire has set a standard rate of $10 for all personal vehicles. The concessionaire does not make special accommodations for various sizes of personal vehicles. In this method, we hope to keep our policies fair for everyone who visits the memorial. The parking concessionaire is also a non-profit organization, the Mount Rushmore National Memorial Society. Any income above expenses that might arise from the parking revenues is returned to assist the memorial with operations and maintenance.

We do appreciate your interest in Mount Rushmore National Memorial and you taking the time and initiative to learn more about the management of the memorial.

Signed – Park Ranger Bob

Bummer.  The ‘ol form letter from the government.  How ironic that I’ve been “stone-walled!”  What is it with these government types?  Let’s peel back some of the political layers here.  The DOI is the nation’s principal conservation agency.  It has over 80K employees at over 2400 locations across the U.S.  It has a $15.8B annual budget of which $12.9B are revenues collected from energy, mineral, land sales and recreational management.

rushmore_parkSo, what we have here is an aggressive commercialization situation by parking thugs concessionaire’s and us motorcyclist provide financial assistance way above all others who have a similar desire to visit the park.  This goes way beyond any reasonable common sense test!  Yet we continue to pay and provide the most generous contributions.  Clearly the Park Management knows this is the case.  I’m sure they have attendance reports that show half of the parking fee revenue is generated from motorcycles yet we don’t consume the equivalent parking space.  In 2007, over 2M visitors came to the monument.  I’ve solicited a report via the freedom of information act (FOIA) which will provide detailed information on the revenue break out and I’ll provide an update on the findings.

Given that budgets have grown tighter and the reality of federal appropriations for parks, it would be a good bet that this parking policy will never change.   So, on your next trip might I suggest as a sign of “cage” protest that we use one full parking space per motorcycle and send a message that we’re tired of the rip-off!

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