OLR Bill Analysis

sHB 5274



This bill makes it a class C felony, punishable by imprisonment for up to 10 years, a fine of up to $10,000, or both, to use weaponized unmanned aerial vehicles (commonly called drones) unless otherwise authorized by law. It authorizes law enforcement officers to use weaponized drones in limited circumstances (bomb squad exemption), and it restricts when state and municipal police may use non-weaponized drones. It requires state and municipal police to post information on their drone use on their websites or the website of the municipality that they serve and imposes retention and destruction requirements for such information ( 5).

The bill makes it a class B felony, punishable by imprisonment for up to 20 years, a fine of up to $15,000 or both, for anyone to use a drone to pass firearms or explosives inside or outside a correctional facility or humane institution to an inmate he or she knows ( 4). Under existing law, it is already a class D felony, punishable by up to five years imprisonment, a fine of up to $5,000, or both, to use other means to pass these items to an inmate.

The bill allows state agency officers, employees, and agents to use drones in the course of their employment and requires agencies to report annually on their use to the Office of Policy and Management (OPM).

The bill specifies that, for purposes of voyeurism crimes, a victim is “not in plain view” when the view is not otherwise obtainable and it is made possible by using a (1) drone or (2) technology having electrical, digital, magnetic, wireless, optical, electromagnetic, or similar capabilities (see BACKGROUND).

The bill prohibits municipalities, except as state or federal law provides, from enacting any ordinance that regulates, restricts, prohibits, licenses, or affects the ownership, possession, operation, purchase, or sale of drones.

EFFECTIVE DATE: Upon passage for the provision barring municipalities from enacting laws governing drones; August 1, 2016 for the provision on weaponized drones; and October 1, 2016 for the remaining provisions.


The bill creates a new crime, making it a class C felony, unless otherwise provided by law, to use a drone, computer software, or another technology that allows someone who is not physically present to (1) release tear gas or a similar agent or (2) remotely control a deadly weapon, explosive, or incendiary device. (Drones so equipped are commonly described as weaponized or armed.) People convicted of this crime must register with the deadly weapon offender registry (see BACKGROUND).

The bill prohibits law enforcement officers from using weaponized drones except that they may use drones equipped with explosive detection, detonation, or disposal equipment when authorized by the state or federal government and engaged in detecting, detonating, or disposing of explosives. This provision applies to (1) special police officers appointed by the Department of Emergency Services and Public Protection (DESPP) for state property and (2) officers, employees, or agents of the State Police, municipal police departments, and special campus police forces.


Under existing law, it is a class D felony for anyone not authorized by law to pass certain prohibited items, including firearms, weapons, dangerous instruments, or explosives in a correctional or humane institution to an inmate he or she knows, whether the inmate is inside or outside the premises. Under the bill, using a drone to pass or try to pass any of the items listed above to an inmate is a class B felony. (Neither the bill nor the penal code defines “humane institution,” but a separate law (CGS 17b-222) defines a humane institution as any state mental hospital; community mental health center; treatment facility for children and adolescents; or any other facility or program administered by the departments of Mental Health and Addiction Services, Developmental Services, or Children and Families.)


The bill restricts when law enforcement agencies (defined as the State Police and municipal police) may operate drones. They may do so only under the following circumstances:

1. a Superior Court judge or judge trial referee (judge over age 70 who serves with limited powers) issues a warrant authorizing its use;

2. the person who, or the owner of property that, will be the subject of the information collected by the drone has given prior written consent (the subject being the person or property that can be identified in information collected or that the official acknowledges as the subject);

3. the law enforcement agency has probable cause to believe that a crime was, is being, or will be committed and exigent circumstances make it unreasonable to obtain a warrant (case law recognizes an exception to the usual requirement to obtain a warrant to conduct a search when exigent circumstances exist, such as an emergency with an imminent threat to someone's life);

4. the law enforcement agency reasonably believes that there is an imminent threat to someone's life or safety;

5. the operation is for search and rescue or training activities, or for reconstructing or documenting a specific crime or accident scene; or

6. while patrolling public property or property open to the general public for limited-time special events, such as a parade, exhibition, game, or tournament.

Information Retention and Destruction

The bill allows agencies to retain information collected by a drone about a person or private property under the terms of a warrant or written consent that authorized the drone's use. If a drone collected information for any other reason authorized above, the official's law enforcement agency must review the information within 90 days. If information identifies an individual or private property, the agency must determine whether probable cause exists that a crime was committed by the person or on the property. Absent probable cause, the agency must (1) destroy the information within 48 hours after the review or (2) permanently modify it so that the person or property cannot be identified and destroy it within five years of the modification.

If probable cause exists, the agency must destroy the information within five years of its collection or retain it under a warrant that was issued, at least in part, based on the information.

Model Drone Policy

By January 1, 2017, the bill requires the Police Officer Training and Standards Council (POST) to develop and promulgate a model policy with guidelines on drone operations by law enforcement agencies and destroying, modifying, and retaining information collected by law enforcement agencies using drones. Law enforcement agencies that own or authorize officials to use drones must adopt and maintain a written policy that meets or exceeds the POST policy, either before taking ownership of a drone or within 30 days of an official using one.

Law Enforcement Agencies Reports of Drone Use

By January 31 annually, the bill requires every law enforcement agency that used drones in a prior calendar year to prepare a report on their use and post the report on the agency's website or the Internet website of the municipality served by the law enforcement agency. The report must include:

1. the number of times the agency used a drone;

2. the type of operation, as categorized in its policy, in which the drone was used;

3. whether a warrant was issued for the use; and

4. the number of times the information collected provided reasonable and articulable suspicion that a crime was being committed.


The bill allows state agencies to authorize their officers, employees, and agents to use a drone within the scope of their employment. This applies to any office, department, board, council, commission, institution, higher education constituent unit, technical high school, or other agency in any branch of government, except the State Police, whose use is covered under law enforcement use.

By July 31 each year, the bill requires an agency that allowed a state employee to use a drone in the previous 12 months to report on its use to OPM. The report must include all occasions when a drone was used; why it was used; and the date, time, duration, and location of each use.

By October 31 each year, OPM must, based on these reports, post on its website a summary report on state agencies' drone use. The summary report must identify any agency that previously submitted a report but did not submit a report during the current reporting period.


Deadly Weapon and Deadly Weapon Offender Registry

By law, a “deadly weapon” is a weapon, whether loaded or unloaded, from which a shot may be discharged, or a switchblade knife, gravity knife, billy, blackjack, bludgeon, or metal knuckles (CGS 53a-3).

By law, DESPP maintains a registry of people convicted, or found not guilty by reason of mental disease or defect, of an offense committed with a deadly weapon. A person must register if he or she violated (1) specified statutes or (2) committed any felony and the court finds that, at the time of the offense, the offender used a deadly weapon or was armed with and threatened to use, displayed, or represented by words or conduct that he or she possessed, a deadly weapon. Offenders must register for five years. The registry information is not a public record and is disclosable only to certain law enforcement and other agencies.


By law, a person commits the crime of voyeurism when (1) he or she knowingly photographs, films, videotapes, or records the victim's image; (2) he or she acts maliciously or intends to satisfy his or her or another's sexual desire; and (3) the victim is not in plain view, has a reasonable expectation of privacy under the circumstances, and does not know of, or consent to, the conduct.

PA 15-213 expanded the crime of voyeurism in two ways. First, it punishes someone who with intent to arouse or satisfy his or her sexual desire:

1. commits simple trespass (entering property knowing he or she is not entitled to do so without intent to harm property);

2. observes another person who is inside a dwelling and not in plain view under circumstances where there is a reasonable expectation of privacy; and

3. does not have the other person's knowledge or consent and the observation is not casual or cursory.

Second, it punishes someone who intending to arouse or satisfy his or her or someone else's sexual desire:

1. knowingly photographs films, videotapes, or otherwise records the victim's genitals, pubic area, buttocks, or undergarments or stockings used to clothe them, when they are not in plain view; and

2. records such an image without the victim's knowledge and consent.


Public Safety and Security Committee

Joint Favorable Substitute