Police Use of Drones

Unmanned Aircraft Systems (UAS), more commonly referred to as drones, have proven to be a valuable resource for law enforcement, first responders, and during emergency operations.  The Champaign Police Department has adopted a drone program after seeing the benefits and value they provide to improving public safety with many other law enforcement agencies.

The below resources, including FAQ and policy documents, are provided to give residents a greater awareness of UAS functions and limitations and CPD’s guidelines around use, privacy, and storage.

Drones: How The Technology is Used

Public Act 103-0101 was signed by Governor JB Pritzker on June 16, 2023, which allows police to use drones for specific purposes, including:

  • To monitor parades and special events,
  • To locate a missing person,
  • Engaging in search and rescue,
  • Aiding a person who cannot be safely reached,
  • For crime scene and vehicle crash photography,
  • During a disaster or public health emergency,
  • To assist in an infrastructure inspection,
  • To prevent imminent harm to life, escape of a suspect, or the destruction of evidence,
  • In service of a search warrant,
  • To counter a high risk terrorist attack, as declared by the United States Secretary of Homeland Security, and
  • To demonstrate police capabilities related to UAS devices to the public.

The Champaign Police Department deploys all drones in accordance with State law. When a drone is used at a routed event, such as a parade, or a special event, notice will be given 24 hours prior to the planned event and signs will be posted at entry points.

Frequently Asked Questions 

UAS is an Unmanned Aircraft System or Small Unmanned Aircraft System (sUAS) and is commonly called a drone. A drone is an aerial device with an onboard computer that is operated remotely, generally by a pilot on the ground using a handheld controller. Under regulations by the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA), small drones are battery-operated, weigh less than 55 pounds, have several rotors like a helicopter, and are equipped with a video camera.

After each drone deployment by Champaign Police, the recorded data will be reviewed and evaluated for evidentiary value. Data of identifiable individuals captured during a drone deployment will not be retained unless there is reasonable suspicion that evidence of criminal activity is present. All retained data will be maintained or destroyed pursuant to department records retention and evidence policies and in compliance with applicable laws and regulations.

Video and photos that are collected by Champaign Police drones are stored for the purposes of conducting police investigations and subsequent prosecutions. Accordingly, videos and photos are generally accessible to police investigators for official use only. Like all police records, video and photos may also be subject to additional release under the same rules and restrictions as Body Camera Video and other items of evidence.

The “Freedom from Drone Surveillance Act” (725 ILCS 167) regulates the use of UAS devices by law enforcement in Illinois. This law seeks to protect the privacy of the public while allowing law enforcement use of drones under certain circumstances. Each drone operator and observer will ensure that operations of the UAS are consistent with local, state, and federal law.

Information obtained by drones under the permissible uses must be destroyed according to Illinois state law unless there is a reasonable suspicion that the information contains evidence of criminal activity or the information is relevant to an ongoing investigation or pending criminal trial.

In addition to the training and study required to maintain a FAA Part 107 Remote Pilot License, all Champaign Police operators train regularly in a variety of locations and settings to ensure operational efficiency. All training is documented, and the records are subject to review by the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA).

All Champaign Police UAS pilots are subject to FAA regulations related to airspace use, and all must have a valid “Part 107” Remote Pilot License or be operating under the direct control of a Remote Pilot in Command. Officer UAS Pilots are also subject to the Champaign Police Department Policy on Drone Operations, Policy 41.19 as well as Illinois state law.

Many area agencies are using drones including:

  • Bloomington Police
  • Decatur Police
  • East Peoria Police
  • Illinois State Police
  • Normal Police
  • Pekin Police
  • Peoria Police
  • Rantoul Police
  • Springfield Police
  • University of Illinois Police

Champaign Police presently own six drones. These devices are of the same quality any user could purchase at an electronics retailer.

Reporting of UAS Usage

In accordance with the Drones as First Responders Act, each year on July 1 the Illinois Criminal Justice Information Authority is mandated to publish on its publicly available website the following:

  • If a law enforcement agency owns a drone,
  • the number of drones owned by an agency,
  • the number of times a drone was used including
    • the date of use
    • the time of use
    • reason for use
    • location of use
    • whether video was recorded, and
    • whether the video is designated for retention for training purposes.
  • a copy of the agency’s latest policy concerning drones as of April 1 of the current year.

Champaign Police will post the annual report here when it is generated for official submission each year.

Department Policy

CPD Policy and Procedure 41.19 Unmanned Aircraft Systems