Chemung County, Ithaca Police Busting Pot Growers With Air Intel

Categories Agriculture, Ithaca, Law Enforcement

By Josh Brokaw

The Chemung County Sheriff’s Department was searching for marijuana plants from the air last week.

The Ithaca Police Department provided “assistance” of an unknown kind in the search, according to a Facebook post from Chemung County Sheriff Chris Moss.

Moss posted on Facebook on the morning of Wednesday, September 27, that his department was “Using drone technology to search for marijuana in standing corn fields throughout the County.”

The above post from Moss garnered quite a bit of attention from Facebook users nationwide, with over 2,000 comments and 1,900 shares of the original post by Tuesday, October 3.

The overwhelming majority of Facebook commenters questioned why the Chemung County sheriff’s department was spending its time searching for marijuana plants.

A sampling of comments regarding marijuana searches on Sheriff Chris Moss Facebook post from Sept. 27, 2017. Screenshot from Facebook.

Questions were also raised about whether the sheriff’s office had secured the necessary permits to operate a drone.

Screenshot of Facebook conversation on Sept. 27, 2017 Sheriff Chris Moss Facebook post.

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Moss called TruthSayers on Tuesday a few minutes after this reporter sent the Chemung County sheriff an email asking for comment.

Moss said that nowhere in his posts was it indicated that the Chemung County Sheriff’s Office was looking for marijuana with an unmanned aerial vehicle [UAV]. The drone was used for photography of the operation, Moss said. The drone belongs to an individual whom Moss believes to have a hobbyist’s license for its operation.

The Chemung County Sheriff’s Office does not own a UAV, Moss said.

“It [might have] looked like we were using a drone to fly over properties to find marijuana,” Moss said. “That’s not the case … We were not utilizing the drone to fly over cornfields to look for marijuana.”

The Chemung County Sheriff’s Office was informed of the marijuana’s location after a flyover by another agency. Moss said he couldn’t recall which agency had provided the flyover that inspired the September 27 search. The Civil Air Patrol has provided them in the past, Moss said. The Army National Guard is also involved in marijuana eradication nationwide. The New York State Police also participate in the federal eradication program, seizing more than 8,000 plants in 2016. The federal government reimburses local and state agencies for their costs, according to how many marijuana plants law enforcement seize and destroy.

“This isn’t something we just started in 2017,” Moss said. He said every year since he started at the Chemung County Sheriff’s Office in the late 1980s, there has been a flyover to look for marijuana around “picking time.”

No arrests have been announced by Chemung County Sheriff’s as a result of the searches last week. Moss declined to comment further, citing the ongoing nature of the investigation.

Jamie Williamson, public information officer for the Ithaca Police Department, was not willing to speak about IPD’s specific role in the September 27 cornfield search. Moss shouted out the Ithaca Police Department for its help in a  September 27 Facebook post showing drone photographs of his deputies removing marijuana plants from a field.

“Police departments assist each other in their investigations on a local, regional, and national level,” Williamson wrote TruthSayers. “Regarding this specific investigation, if it occurred in Chemung County it is appropriate for us to defer to the agency in which it occurred to comment on the specifics of the investigation.”

In response to a request for more information about IPD’s role in this investigation, Williamson told this reporter to submit a Freedom of Information Law [FOIL] request. That request has been submitted and this reporter is waiting patiently for an explanation of how Ithaca Police Department resources were deployed to search for pot plants in Chemung County.

Featured photograph via Sheriff Chris Moss Facebook page.


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Josh Brokaw is an independent reporter based in Ithaca, N.Y.

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Twitter: @jdbrokaw