Bob McDonnell’s impromptu plug for domestic police drones has put him at odds with ... lefty civil libertarians? Surely. But he’s taking the most heat from the right.
Virginia’s Republican governor has ticked off some conservatives with off-the-cuff comments made about the pilotless aircraft earlier this week. Deploying the craft normally used in overseas wars for stateside law enforcement purposes would be “great,” McDonnell said, and “absolutely the right thing to do.”
“Say it Ain’t So, Governor!” read the headline on Bearing Drift, a political blog that bills itself as “Virginia’s Conservative Voice.”
“Who the hell wants to give government the right to fly a drone over your home?” Shaun Kenney, chairman of the Fluvanna County Board of Supervisors and former communications director for the Republican Party of Virginia, wrote in the blog post. “Attaching a red light camera to one of those bad boys? Performing surveillance and other activities? Really? At what point does 2012 look more and more like 1984?”
Kenny noted that he probably agrees with the the governor on 90 percent to 95 percent of all issues, “but this is a bridge waaaay too far. A bridge ostensibly patrolled by drones, so it would seem.”
The topic of drones came up in the midst McDonnell’s weekly interview on WTOP radio’s “Ask the Governor” program. It was one of those curveball questions that can come seemingly out of nowhere in that sort of freewheeling format. (In the space of an hour, McDonnell also took queries about the job market and gay judges, uranium mining and vice presidential prospects, the wisdom of letting craft breweries sell their own beer and the meaning of Memorial Day.)
The drone question did not come completely out of the blue. Host Mark Segraves noted that in recent interviews, the police chiefs of Fairfax County and the District had endorsed the idea of deploying drones for domestic law enforcement functions such as traffic control and surveillance.
Asked for his take on domestic drone use, McDonnell said: “I think it's great. I think we ought to be using technology to make law enforcement more productive — it cuts down on manpower in the air — and more safe. That's why we use it on the battlefield.
“We need to address civil liberties like privacy, but I believe if you’re keeping police officers safe, making it more productive and saving money ...it’s absolutely the right thing to do.”
McDonnell added: “This hasn't reached my desk, but I know our state law enforcement agencies are looking for the most current ways to fight crime.”
McDonnell’s office has since noted that there were no immediate plans to put drones into the hands of police.
“Virginia is continually exploring law enforcement technology and techniques that can keep citizens and officers safe while making it more cost effective to conduct law enforcement activities,” McDonnell spokesman Jeff Caldwell said via e-mail. “State Police do not currently use drones for law enforcement activities. If State Police were to add drones to its law enforcement tools, the State Police would first ensure that such use was consistent with all relevant constitutional protections, laws and policies related to their use at that time.”