MT. VERNON — County officials may be putting the cart ahead of the horse in its efforts to pass an anti-drone ordinance, although the intent is to “send a message” to federal officials.
Since the ordinance was proposed during a discussion of “old business” during the County Board meeting a week ago, the Register-News has learned the county has a drone in its possession — used by the sheriff’s department.
Sheriff Roger Mulch confirmed last week the sheriff’s department has a small saucer with two propellers alongside, much like a hover.
“We use it for surveillance, and it works really good,” Mulch said. The sheriff’s department would not allow this newspaper to take photographs of the drone, fearing it will tip off criminals or properties that are under surveillance.
County Board member Jeff Williams brought the ordinance to the attention of the Board at the suggestion of Chairman Robert White, according to Williams.
“The chairman pointed me in the direction of the Internet, and that’s where I found the ordinance,” Williams said Friday. “It makes a statement I guess, much like the resolutions on the second amendment. It more or less sends a message that we’re not for that (drones). It’s a scary thought.”
Williams said he was not aware the sheriff’s department had a drone in its possession. He also indicated other counties have passed similar ordinances, although none of them are in Illinois.
Mulch said during the Board meeting, “I don’t know what technology is going to do for law enforcement but drones are going to be a big part of it, and we don’t want to ban ourselves from doing what we need to do.”
Unmanned aerial vehicles are not allowed in U.S. general airspace because of the threat they present to other aircraft. Under the FAA Modernization and Reform Act of 2012 the FAA is directed to create regulations that will enable drones to fly throughout U.S. airspace by September 2015. However, small drones — 25 pounds or less — are now permitted to fly in general airspace below 400 feet for the use of police and first responders, with FAA permission.