Evanston police quietly maintained an unreleased internal policy regarding the use of drones, according to a document obtained by Lucy Parsons Labs.
The document [PDF], entitled “Unmanned Aerial System (UAS) Operations” and dated July 25, 2018, lays out departmental guidelines for the use of drones. It is included in the department’s standard policy manual.
The Evanston Police Department’s policy was created without public knowledge or debate in a community that was an early leader in preventing the rush to drones by law enforcement.
In May 2013, the Evanston City council passed a resolution banning drones for two years. That ban specifically included police, stating, “Police departments have begun to deploy drone technology absent any regulation on the appropriate use of such technology, although the Evanston Police Department has not.” That moratorium expired in 2015.
Since the lapse of Evanston’s drone ban, police use of drones has become a major concern among civil rights and police accountability activists. Outgoing Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel recently pushed to give the Chicago Police Department drones.
Emanuel’s plan would have allowed police to fly military-style surveillance technology over any gathering of more than 100 people. The legislation stalled but only after a concerted effort by advocates and activists.
Yet, in Evanston, police use of drones largely faded from local politics.
In August 2017, the EPD responded to a request for “any records” concerning their “use of drones now or plans to use drones in the future” with a one-sentence reply: “The Evanston Police Department does not have policy or procedures or proposals at this time regarding drones.”
One year later, a public records request has forced the EPD to release a fully formed drone policy. The policy was produced for EPD by Lexipol, a for-profit company that outfits law enforcement agencies with ready-made policies.
“The UAS [Unmanned Aerial System] shall not be weaponized,” it states.
Documents also show that Evanston Deputy Chief of Police Jay Parrott received informational emails regarding drones from private firms as early as July 5, 2017.
One email announced a seminar for law enforcement: “When building a successful drone program, perception and acceptance is key to your success. The public has concerns.”
“So how do you educate them to gain acceptance?”