Council grounds police drone project

Mar. 28, 2013 @ 05:39 PM

For the time being, the plan to equip the Monroe Police Department with an unmanned aerial vehicle is on hold. 

The proposal to purchase a mini-drone was brought before council earlier this month. After a presentation, the council voted unanimously to move forward with the purchase. 

Since then, it has been shelved. 

"Right now, we're just pulling it to do some further study on it," Council member Lynn Keziah said. They will make a decision once they have done that study, he added. 

Keziah said the additional study would be conducted by city staff. 

"We'll be studying to make sure...to see if it's something we really want to use as far as part of our system," Keziah said. "We decided that we were going to look further at it, so that's what we're doing, we're just going to take a further look at it." 

Keziah said he has heard some concern from the public, but not a lot. He said he had received a few e-mails, but his phone was not "ringing off the hook." 

Council member Margaret Desio said she had also heard from some citizens, though not a lot. 

"Some citizens that were concerned about their privacy being invaded and the abuse and misuse of the drones," Desio said. 

Desio said the council was given incorrect information about the company, as well. 

"We were told that it would be bought from a local company and that the CEO of the company would be here and that's why we were getting such a good deal on it," Desio said. "That wasn't true. It was going to be purchased from a company somewhere in Florida and the man that was brought to represent the company ... had a record and we felt it was best the city not do business." 

Monroe Spokesperson Pete Hovanec said the city, as of right now, does not do background checks on vendors. 

Fred Culbertson, owner of Condor Aerial, said he served only as an advisor.

"I was never asked to sell them anything, we didn't sell them anything and we never provided any systems to them," Culbertson said. "I was only asked by the Monroe Police Department to provide information on a system they wanted to purchase and help them accumulate systems." 

He said that false information has been spread and that their law firm sent the city information Thursday morning. 

The Maveric drone would be purchased from Prioria Robotics, a company based in Gainesville, Fla., for $43,000, a price quoted to council at their March 5 meeting. 

At the time of the presentation, Monroe Police Chief Debra Duncan was unaware of Culbertson's criminal record. The day after the meeting, she informed Interim City Manager Greg Demko that the department was working with Prioria. Prioria provided a quote and documentation stating that there are no outside companies involved.

"This is a non-issue because we were not buying from this company," Duncan said in an interview. "No money has changed hands, no contract was signed, nothing."

She said they made the presentation to city council to make sure the city was on board before they committed time and resources to research.

Duncan has vetted Prioria Robotics, calling the Florida attorney general, the Better Business Bureau and other departments they have sold products to. 

Duncan said they were not in a rush to purchase the drone because they needed to do more research, get the policies in place and see how the bill in the N.C. House of Representatives dealing with drones played out.

Desio said she cannot see the issue being resurrected in the near future and that she, personally, has no interest in bringing the issue back.