El Cajon chief of police Mike Moulton
San Diego politicos are finding some novel uses for federal COVID-19 bailout funds, judging from a review of coming city council agendas from the county's eighteen incorporated municipalities.
In El Cajon, the police department wants to acquire an "Unmanned Aerial System (Drone) with FLIR Camera" for $45,575 and "a Mobile High Definition Camera Trailer" costing $30,000, according to a report by chief of police Mike Moulton, prepared for the council's May 26 agenda
$13,780 worth of "tourniquet holders" are also on the police department's shopping list.
El Cajon applied for the grant money on April 28 and was awarded $89,355 on May 8, the document says. The report adds that funds from the program "must be utilized to prevent, prepare for, and respond to the coronavirus."
"Allowable projects and purchases include, but are not limited to overtime, equipment, supplies, training, and travel expenses," says the memo regarding the Coronavirus Emergency Supplemental Funding program operated by the U.S. Justice Department.
The Mobile High Definition Camera Trailer costs $30,000.
A law enforcement drone purchasing request using COVID-19 funding was rejected on Monday, May 18, by South Carolina's Spartanburg County Council.
In that case, ten aerial drones costing $10,700 each for a total of $107,000 were part of Sheriff Chuck Wright's proposed coronavirus grant tab, along with "472 personal protective equipment kits at $63,205; 185 cases of gloves at $30,525; 285 cases of hand sanitizer at $6,270," according to the Spartanburg Herald. Total value: $207,000.
"This is unfortunate timing," said council chairman Manning Lynch as he joined a 4 to 3 majority vote to reject buying the drones.
"You're bringing up something that's a tad bit controversial, potentially highly invasive at a time when we've had basic constitutional rights struck from us," added Lynch. "I'm proud Spartanburg County has not been a party to that in anything we've done."
"At the same time, it makes me nervous as heck when I think of all the things, not allowing assembly to practice our religious faith is kind of amazing. It's hard to believe that that's going on in this country and state and this town right now. I'm a little leery of the government wanting any more access to my private life right this minute."
Spartanburg's Lynch: "Highly invasive at a time when we've had basic constitutional rights struck from us."
Said colleague Roger Nutt: "If I need somebody between me and the Constitution, it would be Sheriff Chuck Wright," Nutt said. "Only problem is, after I'm long gone and the Sheriff's gone, there will be other people in charge.
"There's no idea what those folks will think about using drones – looking into people's backyards, seeing if they have derelict vehicles, things we don't do now. In this case, it really is a stretch to say because of COVID, we need drones."
The paper reported that a compromise that would have limited the drone purchase to five also died on a 4-3 vote. Following the failure, the sheriff said he wasn't giving up. "Maybe we can word it differently to address their legitimate concerns."
Roger Nutt: "It really is a stretch to say because of COVID, we need drones."
No specifications are contained in the El Cajon report for either the drone or the Mobile High Definition Camera Trailer included in the COVID-19 grant purchase. EyeQ Monitoring, a vendor of such surveillance products and services, describes a similar-sounding device on its website as "designed to make temporary site security and intelligence simple."
"As soon as our equipment arrives, simply park it where you want, raise the mast, and your site is live – allowing your team and ours to view the site remotely via desktop, smartphone or tablet."