Montgomery County police hold public meeting on new plan to use drones as first responders

Police in Montgomery County are set to detail a new plan to use drones as first responders. The idea is to fly drones to the location of a 911 call to speed up response times. Police say it could help them do more with less, but critics are raising concerns.  

Right now, police tend to use drones after they’ve arrived at a scene and determined they could use some extra eyes in the sky. If this new plan goes forward, police in Maryland’s largest jurisdictions could be launching drones to a person’s location as soon as they receive a 911 call.

Montgomery County police officials are hosting a meeting at Wheaton Library and Recreation Center to provide the public with details on their Drones as a First Responder program. 

The department says quickly dispatching drones over a 911 scene helps officers see locations before they arrive. They want to begin the program in 2024 but the ACLU tells FOX 5 that they have privacy concerns. 

"There’s certainly legitimate use of police drones like if somebody’s lost in the woods or in an emergency but we do need to put some guardrails around it or we’re going to be having police drones flying everywhere all the time," said Jay Stanley with the ACLU. 

And some Montgomery County residents agree.

"I wouldn’t drone hovering around, nobody wants that. I mean, where are we headed? Where are we headed with that?" one neighbor said.

Montgomery County police say they recognize that this could cause worry among residents but say the focus of the program is crime, not surveillance. 

"There are privacy concerns there should be questions and we welcome those questions and we’ve thought about it a lot. We don’t have the time or the energy to be following people around so we want to focus on crime and safety," said Montgomery County police Capt. Jason Cokinos. 

Police currently use drones for incidents like fugitive searches, fires, traffic crashes and missing persons. Officials say their $350,000 pilot program could start next year and fly 911 drones up to two miles from rooftop launch pads in Wheaton and Silver Spring. 

FOX 5 heard mixed opinions about police expanding their use of drones.

"Not to be over my backyard or something like that," one resident said. "I’m 50/50 they’d have to navigate it." 

"It seems a little weird," said another. "Yeah, I don’t know"

Tuesday’s meeting gets underway at 7 p.m. The plan still needs to go to the county council for approval and the council is likely to hold hearings on the plan once it’s submitted.