Police Chief Trying To Find Some Way To Charge Drone Operator Who Didn't Break Any Laws

from the I-AM-THE-[NONEXISTENT]-LAW dept

Don’t let the fact that no crime occurred stop you from attempting to prosecute someone, Sparky. (via PINAC)

Naperville Police Chief Robert Marshall said he is consulting the city’s legal department after the three-minute video posted on YouTube by user JPDrone came to his attention. Shot at night, a drone camera flies over City Hall and several downtown streets, providing a unique view of seasonal decorations while cars and pedestrians move around city streets below.

Photography Is Not A Crime points out that there is no law in Illinois that addresses what happened here. The closest the state gets to private drone prohibition involves a very specific set of circumstances.

While Illinois has passed a law making it a crime to use a drone to interfere with hunting and fishing, there are no other state laws preventing the public from using “drones,” more appropriately called RC (remote-controlled) copters.

If the local lawyers can’t figure out some way to nail John Pauley for his not-illegal act, Chief Marshall is willing to go over his own head.

“Obviously, if they’re flying over a public area, you have to ask if there’s any risk to public safety, who’s the operator and if he’s abiding by the regulations set in place by the FAA,” Marshall said. “There was a request from an individual who wanted to fly a drone camera overhead at Ribfest last summer, and we did not allow that.”

Ah, “public safety.” The one-size-fits-all hammer for every annoying nail that refuses to fit neatly into existing legal confines. The thing is, John Pauley has been very careful about his drone usage ever since his run-in with the Geneva (IL) police department officers, who expressed concern about his flying camera. Since then, Pauley has made an effort to notify proper employees before taking to the air. This includes the Naperville Police Department.

He said he called Naperville police before doing the nighttime video, which he said was filmed from less than 200 feet above the city.

This statement remains unaddressed. Neither confirmed nor denied or even acknowledged. So, it’s Pauley’s word against the Naperville PD’s, the latter of which hasn’t offered any words contradicting his claim.

Maybe Chief Marshall is just suffering from drone envy. Illinois state laws do prohibit the use of drones by law enforcement.

Section 10. Prohibited use of drones. Except as provided in Section 15, a law enforcement agency may not use a drone to gather information.

The Section 15 exceptions (and there are a lot of them) are: preventing a terrorist attack, with a warrant, imminent harm to life, locating a missing person (but notably, not as part of a criminal investigation), and crime scene/crash photography. Flying over private land for the latter also requires the acquisition of a search warrant. “Freedom from drone surveillance,” as the law is titled. That applies to law enforcement only. It says nothing about private use.

The FAA may choose to fine Pauley if Chief Marshall decides to rat him out (the FAA restricts private drone usage to daytime hours), but it appears there’s little he can actually do about this from his end. Marshall appears to believe that if he thinks something’s illegal, it must actually be, even if all evidence points in the other direction — really not the sort of attitude you want in a law enforcement official.

As of yet, no charges have been filed, but never underestimate the creativity of law enforcement personnel whose common sense has been shouted down by their desire to prosecute.

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Comments on “Police Chief Trying To Find Some Way To Charge Drone Operator Who Didn't Break Any Laws”

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John Fenderson (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:3 Re:

“You mean like the one that’s already on the books saying it’s illegal to fly drones at night?”

There is no such law. There is an FAA rule that says this. Which means that enforcing it is well outside of a cop’s jurisdiction. The most the cop can (and should) do about this is to collect evidence and send it over to the FAA.

John Fenderson (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:4 Re:

There may be such a rule for drones (I don’t know), but we’re not talking about drones. We’re talking about hobbyist R/C aircraft. If that’s what he meant, then he’s simply wrong. Here are the rules: https://www.faa.gov/documentLibrary/media/Advisory_Circular/91-57.pdf

The rule is that the operator must always be able to see the aircraft, not that night flying is disallowed. If your aircraft has lights, that would satisfy the “must see it” criterion.

It is true that state and local laws can add additional restrictions to R/C aircraft operations on top of FAA rules — but in the story at hand, that’s clearly not the case or the police wouldn’t have to hunt around for some law they could twist to apply to the guy.

Anonymous RC Whacko says:

Re: Re:

Actually, it’s not illegal to fly a rc plane/helicopter after sunset – accept in a few places/fields that don’t permit it. Of course AMA regulations require proper conditions, lights, etc.

And most the rc drones out there are so small, with puny little propellers they wouldn’t hurt you if they hit you anyway. (As long as they don’t poke your eyeballs out)

A friend has flown his led lit airplane out at night, and it looks really cool.

NOTE: I wouldn’t fly my $10,000 jet after dark (if I had one).

But Then….
Some idiot is going to do something stupid, and then they’ll pass a law to throw us all in jail for owning rc planes.

Anonymous Coward says:

what this points to is someone else who wants to have the power to change things as and when he feels like it, just to suit circumstances he does or doesn’t like! the USA is so full of people like this that i’m surprised that there are any sensible laws out at all and that the prisons aren’t chocker block full!!

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re:

Well since it is illegal to own slaves prisoners are the next best thing. Some official statement even mentioned that they cant release prisoners early because they need the cheap workers.
And since prisons are privat and states give some “fun” guarantees like “90% filled” they cant even stop provide new inmates if they wanted to, breach of contract and all.

John Fenderson (profile) says:


I didn’t see it in the article, but has the police chief explained exactly why he has his panties in such a twist over this? It’s one thing to enforce a law obviously broken. It’s another level of motivation entirely to dig around trying to find a law that can be used against someone who did something you dislike.

So clearly the police chief has an intense dislike of this action. But he never tells us why.

Jack says:

Re: Why?

Because a lot of people complain about RC aircraft usage to the police. People complain about me flying my sub-micro electric heli and I know many people have had the police tell the to stop flying larger helis, planes, and drones. People also complain extra when it comes to FPV aircraft and anything equipped with photo/video equipment.

The police are probably constantly dealing with calls about this guy (because people are selfish assholes) and they can’t make him stop. Back when I was in NC, I had the police called on me about a BL nCPx heli (it’s literally only a 7″ rotor diameter), and near-silent because they thought I was going to damage their car. I can’t imagine if I flew larger helis or drone…

John Fenderson (profile) says:

Re: Re: Why?

“The police are probably constantly dealing with calls about this guy (because people are selfish assholes) and they can’t make him stop.”

Police everywhere are constantly dealing with calls about things that they can’t do anything about, but they don’t get their panties in a twist over that stuff. There must be something more to it.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re: Why?

I’d say this is definitely part of a larger story.

However, this guy is pretty obviously in violation of AMA regulations — if I recall correctly, you aren’t supposed to fly RCAVs over people. As long as it is adequately lit, flying after dark isn’t an issue as long as it is always in line of sight with the operator. But the operator can’t fly it into controlled airspace, nor can they fly it over populated areas. People get reported (and fined) for doing this all the time — usually by people like this PD Chief and concerned citizens who don’t think that it should be legal to have remote controlled surveillance equipment in the hands of the public at all.

John Fenderson (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:2 Why?

AMA regulations don’t have the force of law. What counts is FAA regulations. The FAA regulations are pretty short and sweet (they’re here: https://www.faa.gov/documentLibrary/media/Advisory_Circular/91-57.pdf in the “model aircraft operating standards secion.) You can’t fly higher than 400 feet, if you fly within 3 miles of an air control tower then you have to notify them, you can’t fly in a manner that endangers other people, you can’t fly near noise-sensitive places such as hospitals, and you can’t fly near people-carrying aircraft. Local municipalities may have additional restrictions as well, but they usually don’t.

There is no actual rule about flying over other people specifically, although it is considered extremely bad form in the model aircraft community and most model aircraft associations (such as the AMA) prohibit it.

Dhos says:

There’s a lot of talk in here about the police officer not being able to arrest the guy… but that’s never mentioned, in the original article or the Techdirt article. All I see is that the chief is “consulting the city’s legal department” about the situation. Perhaps he’s doing so to confirm that the acts weren’t illegal?
This seems kinda knee-jerk-reaction-y, guys.

“Obviously, if they’re flying over a public area, you have to ask if there’s any risk to public safety, who’s the operator and if he’s abiding by the regulations set in place by the FAA,” Marshall said.

Someone mentioned that they could be ‘collecting evidence to send to the FAA.’ Maybe that’s all he’s doing?

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