Gov.: Drones over Va. ‘great’; cites battlefield success

Paul D. Shinkman,

WASHINGTON – Police drones flying over Virginia would be “great” and “the right thing to do” for the same reasons they are so effective in a battlefield environment, the state’s chief executive said Tuesday.

Virginia Gov. Bob McDonnell, a retired U.S. Army lieutenant colonel, says he is open to any technology that makes law enforcement more productive. The use of drones, which was recently endorsed by the police chiefs of Fairfax County and D.C., would make better use of valuable police resources.

Increased safety and reduced manpower are among the reasons the U.S. military and intelligence community use drones on the battlefield, which is why it should be considered in Virginia, he says.

“It’s great,” he said while speaking on WTOP’s “Ask the Governor” program. “If you’re keeping police officers safe, making it more productive and saving money…it’s absolutely the right thing to do.”

A proposal to purchase drones hasn’t yet reached his desk, he says, but state law enforcement agencies are looking for the most current ways to fight crime.

That sentiment was echoed last month by David Rohrer, chief of police for Fairfax County, one of the state’s most affluent areas.

“Drones will certainly have a purpose and a reason to be in this region in the next, coming years,” he told WTOP. “Just as a standpoint as an alternative for spotting traffic and sending information back to our VDOT Smart Traffic centers, and being able to observe backups.”

D.C. Police Chief Cathy Lanier, a national security expert, told WTOP in early May that the use of drones is ideal for “a sprawling county” such as Fairfax.

Unmanned aerial aircrafts were first proven in combat environments over Afghanistan and Iraq as a part of the military and CIA presence there. Police forces in Arizona first employed them domestically to help monitor illegal immigration and trade over the U.S.-Mexican border.

McDonnell added Tuesday it will prove important to ensure the state maintains Americans’ civil liberties, such as privacy, if it adds drones to its law enforcement arsenal.

The Federal Aviation Administration released a list in April of agencies and organizations currently cleared to use drones, which includes Virginia Tech. Virginia Commonwealth University had been cleared, but its permit has expired.

Drones over U.S. soil has turned some heads in Congress.

“The potential for invasive surveillance of daily activities with drone technology is high,” wrote Rep. Edward J. Markey, D-Mass., in an April 19 letter to FAA. “We must ensure that as drones take flight in domestic airspace, they don’t take off without privacy protections for those along their flight path.”

Rep. Joe Barton, R-Texas, said in the same letter he “proudly supported” the FAA Modernization and Reform Act that allowed for the domestic use of drones. There are many institutions in his home state that FAA has cleared for drone use, including Texas A&M University, and the police forces in the city of Arlington outside Dallas-Fort Worth and in Montgomery County near Houston.

WTOP’s Mark Segraves contributed to this report. Follow Paul, Markand WTOP on Twitter.

Learn more about what the governor thinks of tolls on Interstate 95, how long he expects to be governor, and an openly gay prosecutor whose nomination to a Richmond bench was rejected by the Virginia General Assembly, in our live blog:

Here’s what he has to say:

10:54 a.m., speaking about prospects as vice president:

I am not being vetted by his campaign.

I have two goals: Elect more governors nationally, because they do a better job than Democratic opponents, and to get Mitt Romney elected.

“I think we need a new president, and that’s why I’m supporting Mitt Romney.”

“Hope and change” is now “recession and fear.” This is a very divisive president.

“I’m absolutely planning to finish my term as governor.”

10:53 a.m., speaking about craft breweries selling their own beer:

You see suds, I see jobs. Our wine industry is the fifth largest in America. These small microbusinesses are where the jobs are created anyway.

10:51 a.m., speaking about uranium mining:

If we can do it safely, we should. It will create a lot of jobs. If we can’t, we shouldn’t.

The General Assembly is going to study if it’s safe.

Environmental groups complaining they don’t have a seat at the table are “wrong.” They don’t want us to mine at all.

92 percent of uranium comes from outside the country. Why wouldn’t we want to mine it if we could do it safely?

We’re going to have four public hearings. They can give us feedback 24 hours a day.

10:44 a.m., speaking about drones:

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…absolutely the right thing to do.”

This hasn’t reached my desk, but I know our state law enforcement agencies are looking for the most current ways to fight crime.

10:42 a.m., speaking about Memorial Day:

“We have a 236-year long love affair with the military in Virginia.”

I’m so glad that, unlike Vietnam, we’re honoring our veterans now, and not waiting for the conflict to be over for that.

10:32 a.m., speaking about the recent rejection of an openly gay prosecutor to a Richmond bench:

The governor only gets involved when there’s vacancy. This is usually the realm of the General Assembly.

People ought to be appointed to the bench solely on the basis of merit. Other factors, such as sexuality, should not be considered.

If delegates voted based on that nominee sexuality, then that was wrong.

(Per the Judge Askew harassment case)

There were certain acts that have been a crime, such as the anti-sodomy laws before 2003. I have always been clear, those factors should not be considered.

The biggest criteria for me, is the ability to follow the law without regard to their own personal opinions.

10:27 a.m., speaking about schools funding:

By law, all lottery proceeds that don’t go to winnings go to public education.

We dedicated about $700 million in new money to K-12 education, particularly in third-grade reading to “end social promotion,” if they can’t read.

10:26 a.m., speaking about mental health:

At my request, we’ve focused on getting people out of institutions and into training programs.

10:21 a.m., speaking about college grads finding jobs:

“That’s probably the top concern for young people.”

In Virginia the unemployment rate is down to 5.6 percent, down from 7.4 percent. It’s still “unacceptably high.”

Young people who graduate with $30,000 in debt, it’s a “tremendous hardship.”

We have made that “the focus in Virginia.”

“We’re doing better than most states.”

10:12 a.m., speaking about tolls that result from transportation costs:

The cost of Dulles Rail has gone from $3.8 billion to $2.8 billion, including “killing the underground station that didn’t need to be built.”

“I owe (Virginians) the responsibility of making sure the project is properly managed and Virginia’s interests are properly protected.”

Most the stakeholders from Maryland, Virginia and D.C. and the federal government agree more needs to be put on track for a financially responsible system.

“There are a lot of ways to build roads. None of them are free.”

I’ve asked the federal government, as has the governor of North Carolina, to toll on I-95. That will all go toward infrastructure improvements on that interestate. We want to fix some serious problems on that corridor.

“We got preliminary approval” from the federal government, will take 18 months to have studies conducted and other “bureaucracy.”

Will fund $30-60 million per year.

10:04 a.m., speaking about support for a Metro extension via the Silver Line:

I’m supporting it. The project has beeni n the formative stages for several years. Getting that Silver Line extended to Dulles is “the right thing to do,” but it’s also very expensive.

We’ve dedicated $150 million of state taxpayer money.

But now we need to see some management changes.

Our board members getting seated on Metro. Washington Airports Authority is one of the changes we need.

“It’s just one more thing that has concerned me about the current MWAA board representing the interests of Virginia”

I’m focused on the elimination of the union preference for the Phase 2 contract which will “wratchet up” the price.

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(Copyright 2012 by WTOP. All Rights Reserved.)

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