Updates on Investigations into Suspicious Drone Activity in NE Colorado

The Colorado Department of Public Safety is providing support to local and federal partners as they investigate reports of suspicious drone activity in northeastern Colorado. Due to high public interest in this matter, we are posting updates on this page as we have new information to release. 

Update on Colorado Department of Public Safety Investigations into Reports of Suspicious Drone Activity
 
Jan. 13, 2020 - On Jan. 10, 11 and 12, the Colorado Department of Public Safety (CDPS) continued field investigations into reports of suspicious drone activity in northeastern Colorado. The investigations involved both air and ground-based resources deployed during the evening to search for suspicious activity and to respond to suspicious drone reports. 

In response to public concern over reports of unusually large-sized drones flying patterns in groups, CDPS has been gathering and analyzing information since November 23 and has conducted field investigations since January 6.  Personnel from the Division of Homeland Security and Emergency Management (DHSEM), Division of Fire Prevention and Control (DFPC) and Colorado State Patrol have participated in these operations.  

On Jan. 10, field investigations increased due to the report of a drone in close proximity to a Flight for Life helicopter. After speaking to Flight for Life, the incident does not appear to be related to the northeastern drone activity. This determination was made based on the information shared directly with CDPS staff, including the incident occurred during daylight hours, involved one drone, and the pilot cannot identify a specific location. Unfortunately, this type of drone incursion is an all-too-frequent event with medical helicopters and serves as an important reminder to drone operators to follow FAA operations guidance.

To date, CDPS has confirmed no incidents involving criminal activity, nor have investigations substantiated reports of suspicious or illegal drone activity. The Colorado Information Analysis Center (CIAC) will continue to receive and analyze suspicious drone activity reports.

Investigative facts and findings from the CIAC as of January 13:
Overall:

  • From Nov. 23 to Jan. 13: 90 reports of drone activity received by the CIAC
    • Of these, 14 were visually confirmed to be hobbyist drones by law enforcement. 
    • The 14 individual drones and operators were not identified. Nor did they fit the description of large wingspan drones traveling in groups.
  • Confirmed instances of illegal drone activity: 0
    • One instance of a drone flying close to a helicopter during the daytime was reported but has not been confirmed and/or identified as a violation.

During field investigative operation period:

  • From Jan. 6  to Jan. 13: 23 drone activity reports received by the CIAC
    • Sightings determined to be planets, stars or small hobbyist drones not meeting the description of large wingspan drones traveling in groups: 13 reports
    • Sightings ruled out as atmospheric conditions or identified commercial aircraft: 6 reports
    • Sightings confirmed by law enforcement but unable to identify: 4 reports

Contextual data from the FAA:

  • Colorado has a significant presence of legal professional and hobby drone operators:
  • Drone sightings from pilots are a common occurrence in the U.S. and in Colorado:  

Based on the data gathered and analyzed during these investigations, CDPS will scale back proactive operations but will continue to respond to and investigate reports of suspicious activity. The public can submit reports of suspicious activity through this web form on the CIAC website: https://ciacco.org/default.aspx?menuitemid=1095.

“The public has been worried about the reports of strange drone activity. Our duty is to be responsive to community concerns and to investigate suspicious activity, and so we mobilized our teams to look into this,” said CDPS Executive Director Stan Hilkey. “Despite all of the reported activity, we are still unaware of any crime being committed. While I can’t conclusively say we have solved the mystery, we have been able to rule out a lot of the activity that was causing concern. We will continue to remain vigilant and respond as new information comes in.” 

Hilkey added: “The efforts we have put forth on this issue have been valuable. In addition to gathering information, this past week’s operations have been an excellent opportunity for our teams to collaborate and hone their skills with new and emerging technologies.”

Daily media updates on this matter will not be issued unless new information is confirmed.  


4 pm, Thursday, Jan. 9, 2020: A report of a drone coming in dangerous proximity to a medical helicopter the evening of Wednesday, Jan. 8, has increased concern around reports of suspicious drones in northeastern Colorado.

In response, CDPS is activating resources this week to continue our investigations into the reports of suspicious drone activity. Our operations may include the use of both ground-based teams and aircraft. As is our standard practice with investigations, we will not be releasing advance details of our operations plans so as not to impair the effectiveness of our investigation.

We encourage the public to continue to report suspicious activity, but please do not take the law into your own hands: do not attempt to take down drones or approach suspected drone operators. Please see this FAQ regarding what suspicious behavior looks like and what is considered unsafe or illegal drone operation: Any video collected by the MMA will not be released until after the investigation has concluded. 

9 am, Thursday, Jan. 9, 2020: CDPS has received a high level of interest in and speculation about the partcipation of the state Multi-Mission Aircraft (MMA) in a joint operation on Monday, Jan. 6, in relation to reports of suspicious drone activity in northeast Colorado.

CDPS has offered its expertise and resources to assist federal and local agencies as they investigate the reports of suspicious drone activity. Three members of the Division of Homeland Security and Emergency Management (DHSEM) Colorado Information Analysis Center (CIAC) CIAC attended a joint operation coordination meeting on Jan. 6, and the CIAC has been actively monitoring information related to abnormal drone activity in Colorado. In discussing additional ways CDPS could support our local and state partners, CDPS leaders decided to contribute one Multi-Mission Aircraft as a resource to coordinate the investigative ground resources involved in the one-night joint operation.

On Monday, Jan. 6, 2020, the MMA flew for 4.8 hours in northeast Colorado, communicating with law enforcement vehicles on the ground. As calls came in reporting potential suspicious drone activity, the MMA was prepared to identify which ground resource was closest to the sighting in order to deploy that vehicle in search of more information. The aircraft typically flies 10,000 feet above ground level (AGL), well above drone operations. The MMA has the capability to detect heat signatures; it did not detect any suspicious heat signatures or drones related to the drone reportings during its flight. During the flight of the MMA, every report of a suspicious drone was investigated and was resolved, and none was substantiated. The MMA was not diverted from any other operational needs in order to serve this mission.

Monday, Jan. 6, 2020:  The CIAC specifically contacted NORTHCOM about any military activity and they denied any military activity. This includes Warren Air Force Base. Three CIAC members attended the multi-agency coordination meeting in northeast Colorado on Monday.