The New York Police Department (NYPD) is to start using drones for some of its work in the city.
Joining more than 900 other state and local police, fire, and emergency units across the country that are already making use of drones, the NYPD’s kit comprises 11 DJI Mavic Pro quadcopters, 2 DJI Matrice 210 RTK quadcopters, and 1 DJI Inspire 1 quadcopter.
The department will deploy the remotely controlled flying machines for a variety of operations, including search and rescue missions, crime scene investigations where the location is hard to access, hostage situations, and hazardous material incidents.
They will not be used for routine patrols, traffic enforcement, immobilizing vehicles or suspects, as a weapon or equipped with a weapon, or as a search tool without a warrant.
The drones will be deployed solely by licensed NYPD officers of the Technical Assistance Response Unit (TARU) who have received extensive training, the police department said.
Commenting on the role drones are set to play in the operations of the NYPD, Police Commissioner James P. O’Neill said: “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.”
He added, “Our new [drone] program is part of this evolution — it enables our highly-trained cops to be even more responsive to the people we serve, and to carry out the NYPD’s critical work in ways that are more effective, efficient, and safe for everyone.”
But the New York Civil Liberties Union (NYCLU) was quick to voice concern about the NYPD’s new drone policy, claiming that there are “no meaningful restrictions on police deployment of drones, paving the way for the NYPD to build a permanent archive of any behavior visible from the sky.”
It added that while there are “legitimate reasons why the NYPD may need to use high-tech equipment like drones to protect our city … law enforcement needs must always be balanced with the privacy rights of New Yorkers.”
The NYPD first tested drone technology almost a decade ago, but ended the trial program in 2011.
A growing number of public safety agencies around the world are turning to drones to aid them in their work, and the machines have already proved their worth in a number of incidents. Earlier this year, for example, cops in the U.K. used a drone with a thermal imaging camera to find a lost person who was in danger of succumbing to hypothermia, while rescuers in Hawaii used the technology to help guide people to safety as lava from Kilauea volcano flowed toward their property.