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Could the Highland Park massacre have been prevented?

Monday, Mar 27, 2023 - Posted by Rich Miller

* My weekly syndicated newspaper column

Could the 2022 massacre during Highland Park’s July Fourth parade have been prevented with a small change to state law?

It’s never been publicly reported before, but several local sources confirmed this week that Highland Park Police Chief Louis Jogmen wanted to send a city-owned drone above the parade last year. That camera-equipped drone could’ve spotted Robert Eugene Crimo III on a building rooftop overlooking the parade before he allegedly fired 83 shots that killed seven people and wounded 48 more. But the chief couldn’t launch that drone because of state law.

Jogmen’s police department has for years wanted to launch the camera drone, which the city uses for search-and-rescue and other emergencies, to fly over major public events. But state law prohibits law enforcement agencies from using the drones for things like event surveillance.

In other words, state law allows police to use drones in the aftermath of horrific and deadly mass shootings, but not to safeguard the public before they happen.

“The Illinois Freedom from Drone Surveillance Act was passed in 2014 in an effort to balance evolving technology with important privacy concerns,” explained state Rep. Bob Morgan, D-Deerfield, who was at Highland Park’s Independence Day parade last year. “Nearly 10 years later, it has been unchanged and undeniably stands in the way of law enforcement doing their jobs to keep our communities safe. We need to revisit and amend this law to prevent future mass shootings like what we endured on July Fourth in Highland Park.”

Highland Park and other municipalities are allowed to deploy helicopters with high-tech video and tracking capabilities to surveil events, but not drones. Helicopters are expensive to purchase, operate and maintain and are very noisy (just ask anyone who lives in or near a high-crime area in Chicago how loud they can be). Drones are relatively inexpensive, not difficult to fly and operate almost silently.

The quiet operation of the small drones is part of what worries the American Civil Liberties Union of Illinois. People “could be observed in a host of different places — like the upper floor of a large condo building or one’s backyard — without knowing that any surveillance was taking place,” explained ACLU of Illinois spokesperson Ed Yohnka. “The same is not true for a helicopter and requires law enforcement to, essentially, announce their presence. This announcement could well deter criminal activity.”

Yohnka is right that the loud noise made by helicopters might deter criminal activity (it’s also a very real and obnoxious intrusion on the lives of South and West Side residents at all hours of the day and night). But, again, helicopters are expensive and difficult to fly and maintain. A town of 30,000 people isn’t going to, and likely can’t afford to shell out that kind of money. Even a place as wealthy as Highland Park.

Highland Park City Manager Ghida Neukirch pointed to a bill introduced last year that would’ve allowed police to use the drones for proactive law enforcement. “Had we had the opportunity to use it last July Fourth, it would have provided our employees with an aerial view of the entire parade grounds and rooftops and the entire area,” she said of the drone.

State Sen. Julie Morrison, D-Lake Forest, went further, suggesting that Highland Park’s drone could have prevented the mass killing.

Morrison was just a block away from the site of last year’s parade shooting and she’s involved with the negotiations.

“We’ve been working with law enforcement to tailor a bill that will serve public safety concerns,” Morrison told me last week, adding that she and others have been “meeting on a daily basis” to find a fix for the state’s drone laws.

Chicago has its own drone rules, and is reportedly skittish about any state law changes that could alter them.

“It’s an important issue to me,” Morrison said. She said giving the police the ability to use drones in a more proactive sense, “could have prevented the shooting in Highland Park.”

The General Assembly passed sweeping legislation to ban assault weapons after the Highland Park shooting. But, so far, those are just words on paper as court challenges to the law work their way through the system.

People should have the right to attend public events without nervously scanning unprotected rooftops, or worse. Nobody is talking about giving the police unregulated and unfettered access to drones. Nobody is talking about blocking Chicago’s drone program. It is time to come to an agreement.


  1. - Sir Reel - Monday, Mar 27, 23 @ 9:02 am:

    This is a tricky issue. Of course surveillance to stop mass shootings is a good idea. But is surveillance of who attends protests OK? I remember attending antiwar protests in college (Vietnam) where the FBI had agents infiltrate the crowd. Not cool. But easy to pick out with their short hair and clean shaven faces.

  2. - Homebody - Monday, Mar 27, 23 @ 9:07 am:

    I am far more tolerant of mass surveillance than many who are as left leaning as me, but drones are absolutely problematic from 4th Amendment perspectives. We’ve already gone through this with infrared cameras, but drones add a new aspect to it.

    That being said, I strongly doubt the drone would have prevented the shooting. The speed at which shooters with modern (meaning early 20th century and onward) semi-automatic weapons can fire means at best it may make apprehension quicker. It may save lives at the margins (which is a good thing), but it would never have actually prevented it in the first place.

  3. - Rich Miller - Monday, Mar 27, 23 @ 9:08 am:

    ===it would never have actually prevented it===


    Sure, Jan. Ever watch any of the videos out of Ukraine?

  4. - TheInvisibleMan - Monday, Mar 27, 23 @ 9:09 am:

    could have? Sure, anything is possible. Would it have? I highly doubt it.

    The same police department that didn’t bother to send a single officer to the highest point for a visible overview of a public event, probably wasn’t going to notice anything from a drone view and prevent it either.

    If they knew what they were looking for, they would have been looking for it.

  5. - Sox Fan - Monday, Mar 27, 23 @ 9:21 am:

    Do other states (that lean both further right and left than Illinois) have laws on the books that we can study/emulate? If nothing else, re-examining our 9 year old law seems appropriate given the advancement in tech since then

  6. - Demoralized - Monday, Mar 27, 23 @ 9:27 am:

    ==but drones are absolutely problematic from 4th Amendment perspectives==

    You’re out in public. A drone is no different than cameras placed outside, of which there are cameras in many, many cities. Those haven’t been determined to violate the Constitution. What are you trying to hide? That’s the question I would ask you.

  7. - WestBurbs - Monday, Mar 27, 23 @ 9:33 am:

    Very knotty 4A issue. I’m not a fan of a “surveillance state” but what is “unreasonable” under the 4th? We’ve already accepted widely used CCTV and CPD POD cameras. I don’t see a major distinction between those and drone surveillance. Perhaps equip the drones with a flashing blue light similar to (most) CPD POD cameras?

    As for the efficacy of video surveillance, it is highly effective for solving crimes with hard evidence and there likely is some deterrent factor. Its use for stopping a potential crime/crime in progress is highly dependent on reaction time of the operators/responders. I don’t want to speculate on the HP Parade massacre but, on balance — which the 4A requires - I’m ok with it.

  8. - Lincoln Lad - Monday, Mar 27, 23 @ 9:42 am:

    I understand the argument, but agree with the sentiment that those with nothing to hide could not care less who sees them going about their lives. Legally fight the improper or abusive use of surveillance, but don’t inhibit utilizing available tools to prevent or quickly end violent attacks. Move the fight to how it was used, when it is used improperly.

  9. - Back to the Future - Monday, Mar 27, 23 @ 9:50 am:

    I would normally just default to the ACLU position, but the column got me thinking that the drone issue should be revisited.
    Absolutely certain that some police officer or city employee will intentionally violate some person’s privacy so some serious safeguards, review protocols and penalties should be in place.

  10. - flea - Monday, Mar 27, 23 @ 9:52 am:

    I do not like the idea of drones flying over my private proerty as I have experienced a neighbor who actually is harassing my cow herd. However, I concede that use for the intended purpose in your column is warranted and a great tool. thanks

  11. - TheInvisibleMan - Monday, Mar 27, 23 @ 9:52 am:

    –but don’t inhibit utilizing available tools to prevent–

    If the police department had an officer placed for visibility, a drone wouldn’t have added anything additional.

    When the police can point to the existing limitations being solved by a drone, then it will make sense. Using it as a substitute for existing tools that are not being used, is a poor rationalization for using a new tool.

    I know locally, a police department uses boom cameras for public events. They cover multiple city blocks, and can easily see on top of buildings. The law doesn’t prevent those, but it wasn’t used in Highland Park - despite the police chief obviously being aware of the law preventing drones and allowing other options. The law doesn’t prevent placing a physical observer on the high ground, yet that wasn’t done either.

    If existing tools can’t do the job, then fine lets look at drones. Point to how those existing tools failed. Not using those tools doesn’t count as those tools failing. But not using existing tools to then justify changes in the law for drones seems to be trying to take advantage of a tragedy to get some wants - not needs.

  12. - Captain Obvious - Monday, Mar 27, 23 @ 9:52 am:

    It’s all about expectation of privacy and legitimate government interests. At an event on public streets do you reasonably have that expectation of privacy? No. Does the government have a legitimate public safety interest in preventing mass shootings? Yes. Would the drone have definitely identified a potential shooter in time to save lives? It is reasonably possible. It would be much more effective than the ban of certain weapons for sure, as the ban will have zero effect. So therefore, drones for this purpose in this situation are perfectly fine. I hope the legislature remedies this. As it stands, it seems to me the law could be challenged in court successfully by a municipality that wants to engage in this type of surveillance.

  13. - Southside Cubs - Monday, Mar 27, 23 @ 9:58 am:

    What happened that day was a tragedy that no one should have to experience, and we should look into ways to stop something like that from happening again. But giving police and the state more surveillance powers is not the answer.

    The reason other countries do not have mass shootings like we do is not because they allow their police departments to patrol the sky with drones. We need to keep strengthening our gun laws and get weapons of war off our streets, we need to increase funding and access to mental health resources, and we MUST reinstate the national ban on assault weapons would be a good start.

  14. - RNUG - Monday, Mar 27, 23 @ 10:03 am:

    While I understand the problematic issues, I think you should be able to draft a bill allowing police use of drones over public events occurring on public property while prohibiting drone usage specifically over / aimed at private property without a search warrant.

    That said, I recognize that, for example, drone operation over a public street would incidentally capture the rooftops of private property, etc. That’s why I phrased it as being in conjunction with a public event.

  15. - cermak_rd - Monday, Mar 27, 23 @ 10:05 am:

    Why not put in a small carveout allowing surveillance for public safety but the footage can’t be used for evidence in court either for trial or for warrants and is promptly deleted?

  16. - TJ - Monday, Mar 27, 23 @ 10:15 am:

    As the Onion has stated several dozen times…

    “‘No Way To Prevent This,’ Says Only Nation Where This Regularly Happens”

  17. - RNUG - Monday, Mar 27, 23 @ 10:22 am:

    On second thought, maybe the language should be any mass gathering on public property.

  18. - Louis G Atsaves - Monday, Mar 27, 23 @ 10:23 am:

    I too was in the area, about a block away. I stopped at the downtown Walgreens to pick up a few things. A beautiful peaceful day when I entered. I exited to people screaming, crying, shouting about gunshots and people being shot and running from the parade site about 20 minutes later.

    I have no issue with flying a security drone over a parade route. Most of the buildings along that route are 2-3 stories high with alleys behind them, with the exception of a corner bank building as you cross the tracks. Senator Morrison is right, they could have either prevented, collared or interrupted that shooter that day spotted by a drone.

  19. - WestBurbs - Monday, Mar 27, 23 @ 10:37 am:

    Captain Obvious nails it. Lincoln Lad, unfortunately, puts forth a clearly unconstitutional rationale — “those with nothing to hide.”

  20. - Cool Papa Bell - Monday, Mar 27, 23 @ 10:38 am:

    Public gathering.

    Write the law so gathering and holding of data or information can’t be stored or used later (pending anything unlawful happening) and allow the drone up in the sky.

    I’m going to assume that there were cops on the streets that day prior to the shooting. That should mean that body cameras were recording or had the ability to record.

    This is a splitting of hairs about a surveillance state. We are well into it now and this is an odd carve out that doesn’t allow crowds to be better managed.

  21. - OneMan - Monday, Mar 27, 23 @ 10:45 am:

    Going to say at the least, a ’special event’ carveout seems like it would make sense. I have been to some very large events in other states where there have been drone and blimp resources keeping an eye on the crowd.

  22. - Candy Dogood - Monday, Mar 27, 23 @ 10:51 am:

    ===But state law prohibits law enforcement agencies from using the drones for things like event surveillance.===

    I think there’s decades of history that suggest why we shouldn’t trust some police forces, like Chicago’s, with a tool that lets them broadly monitor protests and then use that footage to “identify” suspects for arrest. When it comes to any new technology or tool for law enforcement, the question should always be asked “How will the Chicago police use this to terrorize people and harass innocent people?”

    ===The same police department that didn’t bother to send a single officer to the highest point for a visible overview of a public event, probably wasn’t going to notice anything from a drone view and prevent it either.===

    We’re getting the sales pitch, not the details. We’ve seen a lot of evidence of drones being effective in very specific settings and it is usually short clips that are not representative of the hours of operation.

    Simply speaking in large crowds there is a lot going on and we shouldn’t be promising that if we fill our sky with drones we’ll stop mass shootings.

    Complaining about the lack of a drone is certainly an interesting position for law enforcement to take since there were multiple opportunities for law enforcement to intervene that could have prevented this shooting that are much more practical and realistic.

    They had a lot of chances and dropped the ball and now they wanted to pretend like drones are magical devices that enable you to see with clarity everything you want to see whenever you need to see it.

  23. - Loop Lady - Monday, Mar 27, 23 @ 10:55 am:

    There doesn’t need to be a special event for a gun toting nut job to take people out.
    I don’t know about you, but I know even a routine event such as going to the grocery store can end up with you on a stretcher heading to a morgue.

    I think all public events such as this parade should have a security check gate.

    They did it in NYC for NYE.

    Such are the times we live in.

  24. - TheInvisibleMan - Monday, Mar 27, 23 @ 12:04 pm:

    –the law could be challenged in court successfully by a municipality–

    We’ve completely lost the structure of democracy if this is the case. Municipalities are *subordinate* to the state, not sovereign entities of their own. Did everyone skip the classes on city-states?

    This is pushing more on the idea of the police being the legislative and judicial branch deciding what should be law, by default.

    Each one of these moves seem small, but they are adding up to something very much worse than shootings.

  25. - RNUG - Monday, Mar 27, 23 @ 12:17 pm:

    == Municipalities are *subordinate* to the state ==

    Try telling that to Chicago. They’ve managed to get extraordinary carve outs to State laws.

  26. - Amalia - Monday, Mar 27, 23 @ 12:17 pm:

    just checked Twitter and posted right below your post on the drones is a drone drag racing advert. Twitter humor.

  27. - Demoralized - Monday, Mar 27, 23 @ 1:05 pm:

    ==use this to terrorize people and harass innocent people==

    Oh please. Those of you against this must have something you are trying to hide because as far as I’m concerned when you’re out in public you have zero expectation of privacy. At the very least there should be nothing prohibiting law enforcement from using this tool during large public gatherings like this.

  28. - Rich Miller - Monday, Mar 27, 23 @ 1:09 pm:

    Lotta whataboutism, slippery slope and the like in comments today. You’d think I was writing about gun control, only in Opposite Land /s

  29. - JM - Monday, Mar 27, 23 @ 1:23 pm:

    When you are in public, you have zero reasonable expectation of privacy.

  30. - TheInvisibleMan - Monday, Mar 27, 23 @ 1:37 pm:

    –When you are in public, you have zero reasonable expectation of privacy.–

    That’s not completely true. But were already ignoring plenty of other rights in this thread in order to justify giving police more power.

    What you *do* in public is not protected by privacy. What is in your pocket out of public view when you are in public, is protected by your privacy rights.

    Giving police more power, instead of addressing the actual problem of guns, will simply lead to people brining handguns into events and shooting in a crowd. Additional drone powers will help stop a shooting exactly how in that situation?

    We give guns more rights than people. We are just afraid to say it out loud, and these police power grabs will be the result until that changes.

  31. - Rich Miller - Monday, Mar 27, 23 @ 1:40 pm:

    ===will simply lead to people brining handguns into events and shooting in a crowd===

    You may want to consider that your thoughts are awful dark.

    There’s more than one way to skin a legislative cat. And, right now, the assault weapons ban is in judicial limbo. A drone flying over the rooftops is just that. Try sticking to the argument, not making up horrific scenarios in your head. Also, there were cops on the ground during the parade who could’ve likely handled your great fear.

  32. - TheInvisibleMan - Monday, Mar 27, 23 @ 2:18 pm:

    –You may want to consider that your thoughts are awful dark.–

    Then we should ignore that reality until it happens, because this happened at a public neighborhood party down the road from me a few years ago.

    Pragmatic. I’ve seen a lot of dark things happen when people refuse to address a problem head on. As mentioned, we refuse to admit access to guns is the problem. If someone has easy access to a gun, the first step is already done. The next step is what is the easiest option to carry out an attack. Drones are in the air? Stay on the ground or in an upper floor(Las Vegas) with a window. These solutions are reactive, and they will always be one step behind by definition.

    –who could’ve likely handled–

    They couldn’t even handle a single guy on a roof, by placing an officer at the high ground of an event. Seeing police on rooftops at public events isn’t a new thing. They didn’t need any new powers to do that. They just didn’t do it. Are “what-if” situations valid or not?

    We’ve decided to live with shootings instead of addressing the gun issue. We’ve made our choice collectively. If we don’t like the consequences, then continuing to ignore it and finding ‘palatable’ but useless ways to handle the issue is worse than doing nothing.

    “The Doctor says you have cancer and should start chemo immediately”

    “Nah, I’m not going to do that. I’m going to try eating red peppers instead. Well maybe these red peppers aren’t working, I’ll try yellow peppers. The regulations on farms are getting in my way of getting potent peppers, we should get rid of regulations on farms.”

    Guns are the problem. Not a lack of drones.

  33. - Rich Miller - Monday, Mar 27, 23 @ 2:20 pm:

    ===Guns are the problem. Not a lack of drones.===

    My premise is that this is not an either/or proposition. Your premise appears to be that it is. I think that’s goofy.

  34. - RNUG - Monday, Mar 27, 23 @ 3:05 pm:

    == Guns are the problem ==

    Lack of respect for human life IS the problem.

    One can argue over WHY … since there is a whole laundry list of underlying social factors people believe driving this lack.

  35. - Hemi345 - Monday, Mar 27, 23 @ 3:28 pm:

    The state legislature is already trampling on the second amendment why stop there. Many things could have been done to prevent this tragedy. Starting with the state police issuing an FOID.

    RICH, guns are not the problem. You take away guns and sick individuals will use pressure cookers. Look at Boston

    We needs to look at mental health issues FIRST

    Legislation does need to be looked at for drone use but it needs to be tempered by the spirit of the fourth amendment

  36. - btowntruth from forgottonia - Monday, Mar 27, 23 @ 5:56 pm:

    “Lack of respect for human life IS the problem.”
    “Guns are not the problem.”
    Guns are part of the problem.
    So is lack of respect for human life.

    Like Rich said, it isn’t an either/or thing.

  37. - RNUG - Monday, Mar 27, 23 @ 6:46 pm:

    == Guns are part of the problem. ==

    I’ve owned firearms for 50 years. They’ve never been a problem.

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