The state could broaden police authority to use drones. Here's what that would mean.
From searching for missing persons to getting a bird's-eye view of a crime scene or traffic crash, the uses of drones by police departments across the suburbs are growing fast.
According to the Illinois Criminal Justice Information Authority's 2021 Illinois Freedom From Drone Surveillance Act Report, 39 police departments statewide deployed 127 drones last year, including those in Elgin, Arlington Heights, Naperville, Bartlett, Gurnee and Huntley, as well as the Kane County sheriff's office and Forest Preserve District of DuPage County.
That's up from just five departments that used drones in 2017, according to the group.
Now, new legislation in Springfield could broaden the ways and circumstances in which police can put their drones to work.
The proposed amendment to the 2014 Freedom from Drone Surveillance Act would, among other things, allow police to use a drone when dealing with an "emotionally disturbed person" whose actions officers believe could lead to serious injury to that person or others.
"It would enable us go out and search for the emotionally disturbed person from the sky," Elgin police Lt. Matt Udelhoven told us this week. "Sometimes the squad cars, the lights, the sirens and the presence of the uniform can aggravate a situation."
The bill also would allow police to fly drones over special public events -- such as festivals or outdoor concerts -- to observe crowd size, density and movement; assess public-safety staffing; and monitor the safety of the participants.
"It is an extra tool in the toolbox to help us do our jobs at special events with large crowds," Udelhoven said. "You can see from an aerial perspective if there is an overcrowding issue or some entrances or exits are not being utilized, or should a crime occur and you're looking for someone fleeing the area, you've got a great aerial view."
And the proposals would boost transparency by making video, images and information obtained by police drones subject to disclosure through the Freedom of Information Act.
Most importantly to some, supporters say, the proposed changes will not diminish the 2014 law's ban on police using drones to conduct surveillance or other information-gathering as part of a criminal investigation.
Along with law enforcement, organizations such as the American Civil Liberties Union of Illinois are keeping a close eye on the legislation.
"We are aware of the proposed legislation and have been discussing the details with the sponsors," Ed Yohnka, director of communications and public policy for the ACLU of Illinois, told us in an email this week. "The ACLU is open to discussing changes to the drone law, but will be steadfast in protecting privacy and limiting unnecessary expansions of surveillance. For example, people should have an expectation of privacy when at a large public gathering or when engaged in First Amendment activity. We will continue to defend those principles."
Beware SIM card swaps
SIM card swaps -- a hacking technique in which criminals can gain access to your financial accounts through your cellphones -- are on the rise, according to a new warning from the FBI.
The FBI said its Internet Crime Complaint Center received 1,611 SIM swapping complaints last year, accounting for losses of more than $68 million. That's more than five times as many complaints and losses reported in all of 2018, 2019 and 2020 combined, the bureau said.
A SIM card -- the SIM stands for Subscriber Identity Module -- is a small, removable card in your phone that stores everything from your contact information and text messages to billing information and data usage.
Here's how the swap works: A criminal gets your wireless password through a data breach or phishing scam and then contacts your mobile carrier, tricking them into switching your phone number to a new SIM card to which they have access. Once they have that, they can access your financial accounts by requesting a new password associated with your phone number. The criminal then is able to log in and reset passwords to online accounts, including for banks and credit cards.
Here's how you can protect yourself, according to the FBI:
• Don't advertise information about financial assets, including ownership or investment of cryptocurrency, on social media websites and forums.
• Don't provide your mobile number account information over the phone to representatives that request your account password or PIN. Verify the call by dialing the customer-service line of your mobile carrier.
• Avoid posting personal information online, such as mobile phone number, address or other personal identifying information.
• Use a variation of unique passwords to access online accounts.
• Use strong multi-factor authentication methods such as biometrics, physical security tokens or stand-alone authentication applications to access online accounts.
• Do not store passwords, usernames or other information for easy login on mobile device applications.
Fundraiser for fallen, injured officers
The Celebrity Bartender Bash, a fundraiser for the families of recently killed or injured Illinois police officers, will take place from 5 to 10 p.m. March 4 at Murray Bros. Caddyshack, 9546 Balmoral Ave. in Rosemont.
Athletes, media personalities and other celebrity bartenders will serve drinks, with the proceeds going to assist the families of Bradley police Sgt. Marlene Rittmanic, who was killed in the line of duty Dec. 30, and her partner, officer Tyler Bailey, who was severely wounded.
It also will benefit the families of Aurora police officer Brian Shields and Sgt. Ken Thurman, who both died of complications of COVID-19; and Bensenville officer Steven Kotlewski, who was severely wounded Nov. 6 when shot nine times while responding to a call.
Tickets are $25 each and may be purchased at the door or online at ippfa.org.
New Woodridge cop shop
The Woodridge Police Department is getting a new station, but apparently there's some confusion in town about exactly where it'll be.
Some residents have been peppering village officials with questions, mistakenly thinking another building under construction -- a large, and so far pretty plain, warehouse/distribution facility -- is the new station.
To clarify, the police building will be north of that building, off Janes Avenue. Construction has not started.
To see details of the project and a rendering of what it's expected to look like, visit https://tinyurl.com/2p98t28p.
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Suburban departments with drones The Illinois Criminal Justice Information Authority compiles an annual report on drone usage by law enforcement agencies in the state. According to the most recent report, these are the suburban police agencies that deploAntioch Police Department (2)
Downers Grove Police Department (1 drone)
Kane County sheriff's office (9)
Major Crash Assistance Team of Lake County (6)
Fox Lake Police Department (1)
Naperville Police Department (3)
Arlington Heights Police Department (2)
Northbrook Police Department (2)
Elgin Police Department (3)
Aurora Police Department (3)
Gurnee Police Department (1)
Bartlett Police Department (2)
Forest Preserve District of DuPage County (1)
Lake Villa Police Department (2)
Huntley Police Department (1)
West Dundee Police Department (2)
Kane County Accident Reconstruction Team (2)
Hanover Park Police Department (1)
McHenry County sheriff's office (4)
McHenry Police Department (1)
Source: Illinois Criminal Justice Information Authority