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NYPD to use drones in emergencies, other investigations

The department has acquired 14 unmanned aircraft and trained a group of officers as licensed drone pilots, according to an NYPD spokesman.

The NYPD plans to use its own squadron

The NYPD plans to use its own squadron of drones to help in emergency situations and investigations, as well as search and rescue operations, officials said Tues Dec 4. Photo Credit: NYPD

The NYPD plans to use its own squadron of drones to help in emergency situations and investigations, as well as search and rescue operations, officials said Tuesday.

In an expansion of its airborne capabilities, the department has acquired 14 unmanned aircrafts, also known as “unmanned aerial vehicles”  or UAVs, and has trained a group of officers as licensed drone pilots, according to an NYPD spokesman. 

Known officially as the “unmanned aircraft system program,” the drone operations will be able to assist all levels of the department, from patrol units to the Emergency Service Unit,  officials said.  Exactly when the drones will be pressed into service was still unclear, according to a spokesman.

“As the largest municipal police department in the United States, the NYPD must always be willing to leverage the benefits of new and always improving technology,” NYPD commissioner James O’Neill said in a statement announcing the drone program.

Some 900 state and local police, fire and emergency agencies around the country already use drone technology and NYPD officials said it was time that the department, after testing drones on NYPD property, started using UAV devices.  The drones will not be equipped with weapons systems and will not be used as a weapon, said officials.

Ryan English, founder and chief executive of Florida-based drone technology firm Flymotion, said in an email that his company was involved in training and equipping for the drone project.

Among the acceptable uses the NYPD wants to use the drones for are collision and crime scene documentation, HAZMAT incidents and pedestrian monitoring at large events.  The drones will not be used for routine patrols, traffic enforcement or searches without a warrant, the NYPD said.

Despite the fact that the NYPD  said it solicited feedback from civil liberties groups and others, the department got some push back from advocates.

“Police cameras in the skies of New York City offer a new frontier for both public safety and abuses of power,” Chris Dunn, associate legal director of the New York Civil Liberties Union said in a statement.

“The NYPD’s drone policy places no meaningful restrictions on police deployment of drones in New York City and opens the door to the police department building a permanent archive of drone footage of political activity and intimate private behavior visible only from the sky,” Dunn argued.

The Legal Aid Society also said it opposed the NYPD use of drones, saying it amounted to “a  dangerous step towards the further militarization of the NYPD.”

Last month, department officials said they were using counter-drone technology to guard against unauthorized use of drones in city airspace, as well as to guard against possible use of drones by terrorists.

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