County Executive Isiah Leggett has grounded Montgomery’s plans to experiment with drones as a tool for firefighters and police, calling the idea “not ready for prime time.”
A group of officials, led by chief innovation officer Dan Hoffman, told a County Council committee earlier this month that they had purchased four small, commercially available helicopter-style models of the unmanned craft to assess their possible use at fire scenes or during police emergencies.
Council members, expressing concerns about privacy and other issues, said they wanted staff to return with a firm set of policies and protocols covering drone use. On Tuesday, several members, including Roger Berliner (D-Potomac-Bethesda) and Phil Andrews (D-Rockville-Gaithersburg), codified their reservations by introducing a resolution calling on Leggett to produce guidelines.
But Leggett (D) said Friday that he has set aside the project indefinitely.
“At this time, it’s not something that we need,” Leggett said. “I’m not sure there’s a demonstrated need.” He said Hoffman and public safety officials were “premature” in bringing the matter to the council.
Leggett said he had both policy-based and personal reservations about drones.
“It’s a little bit of both,” he said. “I do have philosophical questions about their use without having a discussion with the public.”
More than two dozen local governments either deploy drones or have applications pending with the Federal Aviation Administration to use them, primarily for law enforcement. Federal, state and local police agencies are increasingly borrowing the craft from Customs and Border Protection for domestic surveillance operations.
The council tentatively scheduled an Oct. 2 public safety committee work session to discuss the resolution. But Leggett’s office has indicated that no one from the executive staff plans to attend.
Berliner, one of the committee’s three members, said Friday that the council should continue to push Leggett on the issue. Describing drones as part of the future, he cited a Post story this week disclosing that the FAA will permit Hollywood filmmakers to use them on sets.
“If it’s okay for Hollywood to use them, then it’s okay for the fire department to use them to save lives,” Berliner said.