Wilmington City Council discusses COVID-19 budget impacts, drones for WPD

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WILMINGTON, NC (WWAY) — Wilmington City Council met Tuesday night, with several COVID-19-related items on the agenda.

Council once again held their meeting at the Wilmington Convention Center to allow for social distancing and public participation.

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Before approving the consent agenda, council pulled out one item for more discussion: a request from the Wilmington Police Department for nearly $235,000 in coronavirus grant funds. Those funds would cover an ultraviolet sterilization chamber, first aid kits and eight drones.

“We just didn’t want to purchase items and have it sit in a warehouse when COVID-19 is not around, so we wanted to use it for other uses,” said WPD Interim Chief Donny Williams.

Williams says these additional drones would allow the department to observe situations without needing officers to engage with people directly, therefore preserving PPE supplies.



“Police departments in New Jersey, Florida, and I think Savannah, Georgia and other parts of the country, they’re actually using drones to help with social distancing,” Williams said. “You can equip these drones where you can speak through them, they can fly over or near crowds and encourage people to social distance.”

Williams noted the department’s current three drones, operated by the SABLE unit, have been used only once to monitor crowd size at the Azalea Festival, and are mostly used to view traffic accidents and crime scenes.

“We currently have policies that are very clear on what they can and cannot be used for,” Williams said. “To give an example, you cannot fly them over someone’s private property, you cannot fly them over someone’s yard unless there is a search warrant.”

The meeting also included a public hearing on the proposed fiscal year 2020-21 budget, which reflects the economic fallout from the coronavirus. Mayor Bill Saffo says things like transportation projects and affordable housing will have to take a backseat so the city can be prepared for a hurricane or other disaster.

“There’s also been some infrastructure improvements with storm water that we’re going to have to hold the line on,” Saffo said. “And some projects that we were trying to get off the ground as quickly as possible, some new gyms, new park space.”

The request for drones and other supplies using coronavirus grants was unanimously approved. Council also voted to extend the city’s State of Emergency declaration through Friday.

Mayor Bill Saffo council is prepared to vote on the budget at their next council meeting on June 2.