Drones Used in Crime Fly Under the Law’s Radar

Drones are increasingly being used by criminals across the country, and local law enforcement agencies are often powerless to stop them.

An otherwise peaceful suburban neighborhood in Washington Township, Pa., began experiencing a series of explosions this past spring and summer. Homemade bombs were blowing up in front yards. Nails were raining down from the sky. Windows were left riddled with marks, as if they had been shot at.

For a while, the police were mystified. They could find no clues to the identity of the bomber, and they were confused about how the perpetrator could leave no footprints, tire tracks or DNA behind.

Only after a resident’s security camera caught a glimpse of what was going on did they crack the case. The perpetrator, it turns out, was a drone, one that the authorities say was controlled by a man who is now behind bars, accused of serious felonies.

Drones pose novel and difficult problems for law enforcement. They are widely available, lightly regulated and can be flown remotely by an operator far away from the crime scene. They have already been put to a host of nefarious uses, from smuggling contraband into prisons to swarming F.B.I. agents who were preparing for a raid. And local and state authorities are restricted by federal law from intercepting drones in flight, potentially even when a crime is in progress, though experts say that has yet to be tested in court.

“The use of drones by criminal groups is appealing in part because drones are harder to catch,” said Arthur Holland Michel, co-director of the Center for the Study of the Drone at Bard College. “They create all kinds of headaches for law enforcement.”

In the Pennsylvania case, the authorities arrested Jason Muzzicato, 43, who is accused of dropping homemade bombs onto his ex-girlfriend’s property. He has been indicted on charges related to making explosives and possessing firearms, but the only charge concerning his delivery method has been unlawful operation of an unregistered drone. He is scheduled to appear in court Dec. 9.



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