On Friday, Day 2 of the Feast of the Blessed Sacrament, New Bedford Police posted a reminder to the official department Facebook page that the flying of drones over the feast grounds was prohibited.

“Drone flying over any of the Madeira Feast grounds is strictly prohibited this weekend. Your anticipated cooperation is greatly appreciated,” the post read.

That was met with backlash from some drone operators, who claimed that the police and the City of New Bedford had no authority over the airspace over the feast grounds.

In his weekly appearance on WBSM Wednesday, New Bedford Mayor Jon Mitchell explained exactly why they do.

“I haven’t delved into the precise legal question (of drones), but in general, the police have broad authority to maintain order so long as it’s not violating any recognized constitutional or statutory rights,” he said. “I don’t know that there is a defined statutory right to fly your drone wherever you can.”

Opponents of the move pointed out the Federal Aviation Authority is the only body that governs drone flights, unless a municipality has passed an ordinance against them.

The notion that only the FAA can make the rules for where drones can fly is “not an argument that I buy,” Mitchell said.

“I think the police have general policing power to say you can’t hover a drone over the event,” he said. “So I’d say to drone operators, don’t test us on that legal proposition.”

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Mitchell said the job of the police is ultimately to ensure the safety of those in attendance at the feast, and that includes watching the skies.

“It’s just another form of crowd control,” he said, likening the issue to when police can hold back people from entering the feast grounds because of overcrowding.

“The police have that general discretion, so long as it’s not intruding upon any constitutionally recognized or statutorily established rights,” he said. “So the same goes with drones. It all sort of falls into the general policing power that the Supreme Court has recognized again and again.”

Mitchell said he also didn’t think there was a need to establish an ordinance about drone flights, and that people should just consider the situation.

“Frankly, common sense should tell you, don’t fly a drone over the feast. That’s a vulnerability,” he said. “We’re not about to fire surface-to-air missiles at the drones, (but) you’ve got to keep them all out and I think that's a sound policy that we’ll enforce, and if some drone operator has a problem with it, we'll be happy to explain why we do it.”

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