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New drone law would let police monitor large public events

A drone was used by police during a standoff in Peru to send a cellphone to the man held up in the house.
A drone was used by police during a standoff in Peru to send a cellphone to the man held up in the house.

Drones are not often used by police in La Salle County, but a pending bill in Springfield might encourage more activity.

Of several police agencies contacted, none have a drone and use of borrowed drones has been limited.

Streator Police Lt. Robert Turner said state police technicians have used a drone to process a crime scene in Streator and the Streator Fire Department has employed one to survey crowds at the city’s annual Cruise Night.

Also in Streator, the Illinois Law Enforcement Alarm System, a mutual aid organization for police agencies, lent a drone to check roof tops for evidence.

La Salle County Sheriff Tom Templeton said his department has utilized drones a few times. Once was to search for a woman believed to be abducted by a former boyfriend near Streator; the woman later turned up in Calumet City. The drone was borrowed from a deputy sheriff, who privately owned it.

The other drone deployment was more spectacular.

In September, an armed Jeffery Sorrentino held off police from inside his Peru home. Police were negotiating with Sorrentino by phone, but Sorrentino’s cellphone battery was dying. A cellphone was attached to a drone flown above Sorrentino’s home. The drone hovered and the phone was lowered on a line, where Sorrentino grabbed it through a window. He eventually surrendered.

Conservation Police Sgt. Phil Wire said he has not deployed a drone, but he has considered one for rescue work. Ottawa police are also without a drone.

State police have several drones for such uses around the state as geo-mapping crash, disaster and crime scenes, as well as observation of various ground operations.

Bill would allow drone surveillance at public events

Privacy concerns play into drone use by police. However, a bill was approved by the Illinois General Assembly, that would change the Freedom from Drone Surveillance Act. The change would give police room to use drones to prepare for and monitor safety and security at large-scale events.

The bill defines a large-scale event as a public or private event attended by more than 100 people at a sports or entertainment arena, stadium, convention hall, special event center, amusement facility, a special event area licensed or permitted by a local government, or an event open to the public that takes place in a public way or on government-owned property.

Drone usage would be limited to public safety purposes, such as evaluating crowd size or movement, assessing safety vulnerabilities or weaknesses, determining appropriate staffing or identifying possible criminal activity, according to the bill.

Drones also cannot be equipped with tear gas, stun guns or dangerous projectiles. The bill awaits Gov. Bruce Rauner’s approval, but it has not yet been sent to him.

Under the bill, a police agency will be required to report yearly to the Illinois Criminal Justice Information Authority the number of times in the previous year a drone was used. Police would also have to follow Federal Aviation Administration rules.

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