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Lawmakers, Law Enforcement Pushing Harder For Drones In Cook County

By aaroncynic in News on Sep 26, 2013 9:30PM

Law enforcement officials and other surveillance enthusiasts are pushing harder to put drones in the skies above Chicago. “We’ve been pursuing a drone for about two years now,” Cook County Sheriff Tom Dart told NBC5. ““You can do so much more than you can presently do with one helicopter that we currently split with the city of Chicago for the entire county.” In August, Gov. Pat Quinn signed a bill allowing drones to be flown by law enforcement, but with restrictions. The bill, Senate Bill 1587, allows for the use of drones “to counter a high risk of a terrorist attack” if the Department of Homeland Security deems a threat credible or if other law enforcement agencies have “reasonable suspicion” enough to deploy a drone.

Dart isn’t the only official interested in using drones in law enforcement situations. Last month, Ald. George Cardenas (12th) suggested using the unmanned surveillance vehicles to monitor safe passage routes. After taking to Twitter to talk about it, Cardenas told DNAInfo Chicago:

“It's going to take time to find those uses in an urban environment. It is, however, the future and I think people will want to take that leap. I think eventually we’re going to have to look at this technology.”

Considering Chicago already has a giant surveillance network, not everyone is thrilled about the idea of adding another layer, particularly drones. Several users took Cardenas to task on Twitter for the idea. One asked “what could possibly go wrong?” Martin Ritter, a member of the Local School Council at Whitney Young High School and a Chicago Teachers Union organizer, said “flying tanks are not the answer.”

The American Civil Liberties Union has taken a measured approach, acknowledging that more lawmakers and others will want to use the technology but also making certain that use is monitored. Ed Yohnka, a spokesperson for the ACLU said “you know you can buy these things on the Internet. You can take them—I can take it right now and fly it over my neighbor’s backyard. What does that look like in terms of what kind of regulations.”

One of the reasons the bill passed in the first place is probably due to at least a few regulations that were part of the bill. When the Senate first sent SB1587 to the governor’s desk, sponsor Daniel Biss said “recognizing that drones can make police work more efficient and keep officers out of harm’s way, but also acknowledging the potential threat they pose to individual liberties.”