The Montgomery County Police Department (MCPD) recently held community events in Silver Spring and Wheaton to discuss the proposed Drones as First Responders (DFR) Program. The program aims to use drones to respond to emergency calls and arrive before or with first responders on the scene.
During the presentation, MCPD Captain Jason Cokinos explained that they plan to launch the program as a pilot initiative, subject to the approval of the County Council. They hope to resume the program in October, with two drones stationed in Silver Spring and Wheaton. If they are successful, they intend to expand the program to the entire province.
The drones, which weigh about 20 pounds, can reach speeds of up to 51 mph and fly for about 55 minutes on a full battery. One of the main purposes of using drones in emergency situations is to reduce cases of police violence. By providing real-time information to responding officers, drones can aid decision-making and help ensure an appropriate response to a situation.
Carlean Ponder, co-chair of the Silver Spring Justice Coalition, expressed skepticism about the program’s effectiveness in slowing down encounters between police and community members. However, Cokinos highlighted the potential benefits, such as providing important insights into a person’s mental health status and helping to resolve incidents involving firearms without necessarily escalating the situation.
Additionally, using drone footage as evidence can contribute to police accountability and transparency. Like body camera footage, drone footage will be made public.
Responding to community concerns, Cokinos assured attendees that the program takes privacy issues into account. The drones will be equipped with upward-facing cameras during flight, and the cameras will only be directed to the emergency zone after arrival. Additionally, Cokinos emphasized that drones do not use facial recognition technology and do not record or upload recordings of people’s faces.
MCPD modeled its DFR Program after the successful drone program implemented by the Chula Vista Police Department in California. The MCPD team visited California to witness the program’s operations firsthand.
While concerns have been raised about drone operation during adverse weather conditions, Cokinos acknowledged that like helicopters, drones can be temporarily inactive in such conditions.
The drones will be operated by police officers who receive special training. Detective Michael Polcsa assured attendees that drones have built-in software and sensors to prevent accidents in flight.
In general, the “Drones as First Responders” Program aims to improve response to emergency situations, improve decision-making, reduce cases of police violence, and improve transparency within the community.