New drone legislation will help police departments respond to emergencies and protect communities

February 14, 2022

Legislation to protect Illinois residents from drone surveillance but allow police to better employ the aerial devices in critical searches and investigations has been introduced in the Illinois General Assembly.


In the eight years since the initial passage of the Illinois Freedom from Drone Surveillance Act, the number of drones has increased exponentially, and the technology behind drones has transformed. Drones are now regularly utilized to inspect bridges, water towers and power lines as well as by news media, realtors, farmers, and hobbyists.

A coalition of law enforcement officials has met for months to develop legislation to create a modernized framework in Illinois. Groups have included the Illinois Association of Chiefs of Police and the Aurora, Elgin, and Palos Heights police departments. Aurora police successfully used drones as part of the overall strategy that saved lives in the deadly Henry Pratt shooting three years ago this week.

“The enhanced capabilities offered by drones is critical for law enforcement and our Illinois laws need to be continually modernized to react to key situations and even more importantly, to preserve individual privacy,” said Sgt. Andrew Wolcott of the Aurora Police Department.

Lt. Matt Udelhoven, a drone expert with the Elgin Police Department, said the recommendations in Senate Bill 4009 and House Bill 5452 are “narrowly tailored to preserve time and resources and most importantly, increase public and personnel safety.”

Among the bill’s proposed changes are:

  • Updates the definition of “emotionally disturbed persons” with a narrowly tailored definition to determine when law enforcement may use a drone to determine the best course of action for a person in mental distress. The bill also provides law enforcement an option to assess the situation without the use of physical police personnel, which can aggravate a person in distress.
  • Updates the definition of “special event” to reflect the specific designation by the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA). The bill permits the use of a drone by a law enforcement agency at a special event to prepare for or observe crowd size, density, and movement; to assess public safety staffing; or to oversee the general safety of the participants. If the special event is occurring on private property, use of a drone for this exception shall be authorized by the owners or organizers prior to the flight.
  • Eliminates the word “data” from the definition of “information” and clarifies that the word “information” does not include training of law enforcement officers.
  • Provides that a law enforcement agency may use a drone to respond to Public Safety Answering Point (PSAP) dispatched calls for 911 service but only when the primary purpose for the response is to locate and/or assist victims, identify offenders, and to guide emergency response.
  • Provides that information gathered by a drone is subject to the disclosure and exception to disclosure provisions of the Freedom of Information Act. The current law restricts the ability to release drone footage, so the new language increases transparency.

Senate Bill 4009 is sponsored by Senator John Connor, D-Lockport; and House Bill 5452 is sponsored by Rep. Thaddeus Jones, D-Calumet City. The bills will be considered during the spring session of the Illinois General Assembly.