Illinois Senate passes unmanned aerial vehicles bill to House

The Illinois Senate voted 52-1 in favor of Senate Bill 1587, titled “Drone Surveillance,” on Thursday, passing the legislation regarding unmanned aerial vehicles (UAV), or drones, to the House. Champaign County Sheriff Dan Walsh said he will not make any decisions regarding the UAV, which was purchased by his department in 2007, until the law is established.

“Right now we’re just going to sit and wait to see what the law and the (Federal Aviation Administration) end up doing,” Walsh said.

Senate Bill 1586, proposed by Daniel Biss, D-Evanston, prohibits police or other government agencies from using UAVs unless a judge issues a search warrant authorizing the use of the UAV.

Gene Robinson, owner of RP Flight Systems, a Texas-based UAV manufacturing company, said the FAA has been discussing regulations for UAVs over the past few years, as well. Because UAVs are a new technology used by police offices and other government agencies, regulations have not been fully developed yet.

Robinson’s company manufactured the SkyCamo Spectra purchased by the Champaign County Sheriff’s Office, and Robinson said the FAA’s slow progress in developing legislation has caused him difficulties in his business.

“The FAA has a long history of not making their deadlines,” Robinson said. “It’s been a very frustrating situation for manufacturers and also law enforcement officers who want to use the technology, and they cannot.”

Walsh said in an email that he and his office purchased the Spectra to assist in search-and-rescue missions, mostly, but the UAV could be used for more. He said the UAV could assist in many different situations, such as photographing outdoor crime scenes and searching rural areas for suicidal citizens or fleeing suspects.

The Spectra is capable of streaming live video back to a computer, as well as taking high-resolution photographs, Walsh said. But, unlike military-grade drones, it does not have any weapons attached to it, he said.

Brian Dolinar, a visiting scholar at the University, investigated the UAV himself and obtained documentation about it from the Sheriff’s Office. Dolinar said he believes the drone could be useful in search-and-rescue missions, but he also believes it will most likely be used for the War on Drugs.

“Statistically, what you hear about in the news, you don’t hear frequently about search-and-rescue missions,” Dolinar said. “If you pick up a newspaper, you’ll see one (report), if not more, for drug violations. That is the bread and butter of police departments.”

Janelle can be reached at jnodea2@dailyillini.com.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.