Cost of drones too much for police


Chances are, a drone won’t find you as you speed down Interstate 55 or drink beer in a public park.

Not because Illinois’ new drone regulations forbid it, but because most of the state’s police departments are too poor to buy a drone.

Gov. Pat Quinn signed the state’s first drone regulations this week.

But John Kennedy, executive director for the Illinois Chiefs of Police, said people across the state should not worry about an omnipresent eye in the sky.

“No police department in the state has the budget for a drone,” Kennedy said. “No one has the financial capability to fly a drone.”

Chief among the limits, police departments must have a warrant if they want to fly their mini-choppers over private property.

The American Civil Liberties Union applauds the new law.

“This measure demonstrates that it is possible to place appropriate and reasonable guidelines on emerging technologies that ensure privacy for average residents in Illinois,” the state’s ACLU legislative director, Mary Dixon, said in a statement.

Police across the state can dispatch drones to photograph crime scenes, monitor traffic crashes and look for missing people, as well as a handful of other broad exceptions.

Still, Kennedy says, unless the federal government starts offering grants to buy drones, Illinois will remain relatively spy plane free.

“It’s a lot cheaper to park a van (in a construction zone) and take pictures than to fly a drone,” Kennedy said.

If a drone is flying and happens to find crime, he said, officers must get a search warrant or permission to use that evidence.

Before, police did not have to follow those rules if a police helicopter or patrol plane spotted a crime.

“That’s just the way the law is written,” Kennedy explained.

Champaign County is the only of the state’s 102 counties to use a drone.

Sheriff Dan Walsh said he once used what he called “a remote control plane” to look for a missing person.

“I do not see Illinois Sheriff’s using this type of device to violate any 4th Amendment rights and “spy” on particular people,” Walsh said.

Walsh said he’s not planning to buy a drone, though he wouldn’t rule it out in the future.

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