holmes 052523SPRINGFIELD – On Feb. 15, 2019, a mass shooting took place at Henry Pratt Company in Aurora. Within 90 minutes of the shooter’s arrival, five people had been killed by the gunman. Five police officers were injured along with another civilian. The Aurora Police Department began reviewing the case for opportunities to use their drones at events; over the next three years, a plan was formed.

On Wednesday, Aurora’s State Senator Linda Holmes brought the work of law enforcement agencies who studied how the use of drones could play a role in protecting the public in mass shooting events, and House Bill 3902 – the Drones as First Responders Act – was heard and passed in the Senate.

“This measure gives police and other first responders critical information in a chaotic situation where lives are at stake,” said Holmes (D-Aurora). “This capability could spare another community the suffering and trauma we experienced here.”

Aurora police had drones for several purposes but at the time of the Pratt shooting, state law didn’t allow what became a valid need: using drones to identify public safety threats, while also addressing privacy, surveillance and data concerns. Working with area police departments, the Illinois Chiefs of Police, state’s attorney offices as well as the ACLU and others focused on privacy issues, Holmes filed a bill in 2022.

Tragically last year, a sniper fired into the Highland Park Fourth of July parade, killing seven and injuring 48. State Senator Julie Morrison (D-Deerfield) was walking in the parade with her family at the time. She filed legislation last fall, and teamed with Holmes to bring their efforts together this spring.

Addressing concerns about drone surveillance and privacy, House Bill 3902 sets specific limits on where and how drones can be used, restricts photography, prohibits facial recognition or onboard weapons, and adds reporting and retention constraints. Only events held in public outdoor spaces owned by the state, county or municipality can be covered.

“I sincerely hope this approach makes a difference in how law enforcement and first responders can gather information and take lifesaving actions swiftly,” Holmes said. “Our communities deserve to feel safer as people go about their lives.”

House Bill 3902 passed the Senate Wednesday evening on a 56-1 vote.