St. Charles alderpersons support use of drones for surveillance at community events

Back proposed legislation to change the Drone Surveillance Act

St. Charles St. Patrick Day Parade processes down Main Street on Saturday, March 11, 2023.

St. Charles alderpersons support changing a state law to allow police departments to use drones for surveillance at community events to prevent tragedies such as the mass shooting last year at the Highland Park Fourth of July Parade that left seven spectators dead.

At the St. Charles City Council’s Government Operations Committee meeting on March 20, alderpersons unanimously supported the change to the Drone Surveillance Act. The committee’s recommendation will now go to the full City Council.

“We would really like to use the drones a little more effectively than we are allowed to do right now.”

—  St. Charles Police Chief James Keegan

They recommended approval of a resolution that supports the proactive use of drones by law enforcement at special events to observe crowd size, behavior and movement. The Illinois Chiefs of Police Association also supports the proposed legislation, known as the Drones as First Responders Act.

“Right now, we can use the drones really only when a crime has been committed or an accident or things of that nature,” St. Charles Police Chief James Keegan told alderpersons. “So whether it’s parade safety or monitoring crowds, the law does not allow us to put drones up in the air to get a look at the surroundings…We would really like to use the drones a little more effectively than we are allowed to do right now.”

Keegan said the police department did all it could do to make sure the recent St. Patrick’s Parade in downtown St. Charles went as smoothly as possible.

“We did a lot of things proactively to make sure we had a safe environment for everybody involved,” he said. “One of the things I would have loved to have done ahead of that parade was use a drone. And quite frankly, even during the parade. But the law doesn’t allow us to do that.”

The proposed legislation would permit the use of a drone by a law enforcement agency at a special event to prepare for or observe crowd size, density, and movement; assess public safety staffing or oversee the general safety of the participants.

If a special event is occurring on private property, use of a drone must be authorized by the owners or organizers prior to flight.