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It’s just a (good) bill

Thursday, May 25, 2023 - Posted by Rich Miller

* From a newspaper column I wrote back in March

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. […]

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. […]

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.

* Press release today…

Less than a year after State Senator Julie Morrison and her family ran for their lives as a man opened fire from a rooftop in Highland Park, she passed a measure to enhance public safety through the use of drones.

“Drones provide an invaluable resource that can be used to monitor large crowds for suspicious activity,” said Morrison (D-Lake Forest). “This technology exists – there’s no reason we shouldn’t put it in the hands of law enforcement.”

The Morrison-led measure allows law enforcement to use drones to monitor special events, like parades and festivals, to detect breaches and identify public safety issues.

It comes in response to the Fourth of July mass shooting that killed seven and wounded dozens more in Highland Park. The shooter fired a rifle on parade crowd from the rooftop of a downtown building.

“The devastating July day in Highland Park underscored the need for increased public safety initiatives for large events,” said Morrison. “I can’t help but wonder what the outcome of that July day would’ve been had this law been in place.”

“The City of Highland Park appreciates the work of Senators Morrison and Holmes leading on legislation that will broaden the use of drones by public safety in certain situations, specifically for preventative use against public safety threats towards public gatherings,” said Highland Park Mayor Nancy Rotering. “Allowing our public safety personnel the use of drones to monitor large scale public events will increase their ability to secure an area, and save time while improving the delivery of life-saving services.”

House Bill 3902 passed the Senate Wednesday.

The ACLU of Illinois opposed the bill last year, but the group negotiated some changes this year and is now neutral.


  1. - Demoralized - Thursday, May 25, 23 @ 9:30 am:

    I do not understand this opposition to utilizing drones at major events like that. Some people need to take off their tinfoil hats and understand it’s a public safety issue and that certainly should outweigh their irrational fears.

  2. - Homebody - Thursday, May 25, 23 @ 9:42 am:

    @Demoralized: I am not familiar with the original law or the text of the new one, but in response to your question usually it is an overreach/privacy issue. Will the drones be used to look into people’s backyards or places they have an expectation of privacy? Will they be used to look in the upper floor windows of apartment buildings? How are the recordings maintained for privacy purposes? Can anyone FOIA them?

    I’m generally pro public space surveillance. It increases the likelihood of catching bad guys (and studies show higher likelihood of getting caught is a greater deterrent to crime than longer sentences), so it is a worthy investment. But I already recognize every new tool the government gets invites the possibility of abuse and misuse, so that needs to be planned for.

    In this case, if the ACLU of Illinois is happy enough for the changes, I’m willing to defer to their judgment.

  3. - Nuke The Whales - Thursday, May 25, 23 @ 9:43 am:

    Would a drone have prevented the mass murder in Highland Park? I’m not sure, but it’s possible. The bill, while if I were a legislator I would support on merit, is simply a better version of “arm all the teachers” in the “blame anything but the gun and the police’s failure to take it,” school of response to mass murders we see.

  4. - Rich Miller - Thursday, May 25, 23 @ 9:47 am:

    ===is simply a better version of “arm all the teachers”===

    That’s a truly repulsive analogy on so many levels.

    You have to deal with the real world as it is. And these drones ain’t gonna shoot anyone by accident.

  5. - H-W - Thursday, May 25, 23 @ 9:48 am:

    I remember your story. Excellent work Rich, and excellent work, Sen. Morrison. Thank you all who played a role in making this happen, including the ACLU.

  6. - Jerry - Thursday, May 25, 23 @ 9:53 am:

    I agree with Homebody and the point about the ACLU.

    The ACLU is consistently on the side of limited government and conservatism more so than Republicans.

  7. - JB13 - Thursday, May 25, 23 @ 10:28 am:

    This is absolutely a good bill. Drone surveillance for large public gatherings just makes sense, to give police departments that don’t have helicopters the ability to, for instance, see an armed man standing on a roof, preparing to target innocent people.

    Should drones be used to look into people’s windows or back yards? Of course not.
    But there is a big difference in privacy expectations between attending a large public gathering, on a public street, and sitting on my back patio.

  8. - Tinman - Thursday, May 25, 23 @ 11:07 am:

    Drones are a good tool . But there must be restrictions on their use. So I get the concerns . Using them in a situation such as a large public event makes sense. Extra eyes can increase public safety .

  9. - DuPage Saint - Thursday, May 25, 23 @ 11:13 am:

    I know this is antidotal but I was told by a person that their assessed value went way up and when they went to the assessor they were told that they had sent a drone over area and it saw new construction on the property. This was after Rich’s story about Highland Park so I could not figure how they could use a drone for that and cops could not use one for safety

  10. - levivotedforjudy - Thursday, May 25, 23 @ 11:15 am:

    The ACLU argument is just what it does, not surprised. But, this was a real, tragic situation and in our pro-gun, mass shooting “new normal” environment where the kids knew what to do as their parents froze up, common sense prevailed. This is good, common sense legislation.

  11. - Demoralized - Thursday, May 25, 23 @ 11:46 am:

    == their assessed value went way up and when they went to the assessor they were told that they had sent a drone over area and it saw new construction on the property. ==

    Umm, as it should.

  12. - DuPage Saint - Thursday, May 25, 23 @ 1:21 pm:

    @Demoralized. My point was use of drones. And actually the assessor identified the wrong property by air so it went back down

  13. - Give Us Barabbas - Thursday, May 25, 23 @ 1:28 pm:

    The drone over the parade wouldn’t have guaranteed finding Crimo in time to stop him. We just don’t know for sure if the single operator would have picked him out on a roof until things started happening. My guess is, there would have been too much other activity to look at, to pick him out, unless they’d already had a tip to watch for a rooftop sniper. But I don’t disagree that using the drone for a high view of a parade event is a legit use of a police drone.

    I do understand that cops can’t seem to help themselves to incrementally abuse new tech they get over time, and that something like drone surveillance needs some strong guidelines to prevent “mission creep” applications without oversight or approval. At the least, I’d want them to get an OK from a judge for each deployment where the event is known and pre-scheduled in advance.

    I’d want a judge to look over any plan to surveil a political rally in a way that makes it easy to track people and their vehicles, because that could put a damper on free speech via intimidation. And yes, there need to be strict penalties for abuses like using the drone for peeping or other non-law-enforcement uses. No mini version of “Blue Thunder”, please.

  14. - Demoralized - Thursday, May 25, 23 @ 1:37 pm:

    I think some of your are overly paranoid. If you aren’t doing anything wrong then you really have nothing to worry about. I could care less if a drone is hovering above my house or my car or whatever else. Look all you want. Doesn’t bother me.

  15. - Give Us Barabbas - Thursday, May 25, 23 @ 2:51 pm:

    Demoralized, that can’t be the standard. There’s too much history of abusive, intrusive investigation under the “if you are innocent you have nothing to fear” excuse. If you’re so innocent and have nothing to fear, why use a pseudonym to post here, for example? Not trying to dunk on you, but just to make the case that privacy for one and privacy for all are interlinked and essential for a healthy democracy. Or you could ask any random Uyghurs living in China right now, about their government-mandated cell phones they must carry all day, can’t turn off, that track them, record their audio continuously, even when not calling, and report to cops when more than two of them gather… that’s an extreme example, but it also started with: If you’re innocent, you have nothing to fear”. You have everything to fear, in a surveillance state. Heck yes, we need judges monitoring the use age of drones when surveilling the public.

  16. - @misterjayem - Thursday, May 25, 23 @ 5:08 pm:

    “If you aren’t doing anything wrong then you really have nothing to worry about.”

    And that’s why your bathroom doesn’t have a door, amirite?

    – MrJM

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