Largest Police Department in U.S. Shows Off Fleet of Drones

Photo by Bruno Martins via Unsplash.

While drones have been adopted as a tool for law enforcement in many police departments across the country, opponents have raised concerns about the privacy of civilians. That said, in most cases the good outweighs any perceived bad, and use of the technology by law enforcement and first responders continues to grow.

New York City’s Police Department, for instance, has not used unmanned aerial vehicles (UAV) since a pilot program from 2011 was discontinued. But that’s changing now after numerous reports today state that the  New York Police Department (NYPD) has shown off its new fleet of drones.

According to the Associated Press, the department said Tuesday that potential uses for its 14 drones include search and rescue, hard-to-reach crime scenes, hostage situations, and hazardous material incidents.

The NYPD says drones can reduce risk to officers and bystanders during a response to dangerous situations. They’ll be operated by officers who are specially trained and licensed. The department says the drones won’t be used for routine patrol or traffic enforcement.

Related reading: Chula Vista Police Demonstrate Value with Drones Assisting as First Responders

The police say the drones could be used for reconstructing traffic crashes, mapping crime scenes, securing large events, and conducting search-and-rescue operations. Civil libertarians fear they also could be used for spying on law-abiding citizens, according to The New York Times.

The NYPD reportedly stopped using drones after a pilot program in 2011, but the department has continued to purchase them as recently as last year, documents show. Police commanders this week lifted a veil of secrecy covering the department’s drone program, announcing they have acquired 14 UAVs and have trained more than 25 officers to fly them, The New York Times reported.

“As the largest municipal police department in the United States, the N.Y.P.D. must always be willing to leverage the benefits of new and always-improving technology,” Police Commissioner James P. O’Neill said in a statement.

The drones will not be used for everyday police patrol, unlawful surveillance or to enforce traffic laws and will not be equipped with weapons.

The expansion of the drone program follows a pilot project in Brooklyn in 2011 and establishes the Police Department’s place among dozens of law enforcement agencies that in recent years have used drones in search-and-rescue efforts and securing events with large crowds.