The N.Y.P.D. (New York Police Department) has unveiled its first fleet of drones with the aim of reducing risk to officers and bystanders during a response to dangerous situations. The department said the 14 acquired DJI drones will be used for policing large concerts and other events, investigating hazardous waste spills, handling hostage situations and reaching remote crime scenes. They will not be used for everyday police patrol, unlawful surveillance or to enforce traffic laws.
The announcement set the stage for a public debate in the city about civilian privacy and police technology as civil libertarians are skeptical; they fear the drones could also be used for spying on law-abiding citizens.
The police in turn say that drones have been adopted as a law-enforcement tool in police departments across the country adding that almost 900 public safety agencies nationwide already use drones.
“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.
Revealing details the Police Department said that last fall officials ordered three drones for testing. By summer, the department had purchased 14 and was ready to join the league of many law enforcement agencies that have adopted drones for search-and-rescue efforts and for watching over events with large crowds in recent years.
While crediting the police with seeking advice from his panel and the New York Civil Liberties Union, Democrat and the chairman of the City Council’s Committee on Public Safety Donovan Richards said, he would still seek to fast-track legislation to establish safeguards to protect the privacy of citizens. “What we want to avoid is mission creep, where you start with the use of drones for traffic and before you know it, it’s being used for surveillance,” Mr. Richards said.
“Drone technology will give our cops and their incident commanders an opportunity to see what they’re getting into before they go into harm’s way.” Chief of Department Terence A. Monahan said, adding “Let me be clear: N.Y.P.D. drones will not be used for unwarranted surveillance.”
N.Y.P.D. had consulted with local elected leaders, among others, on a policy for using drones before they were deployed, officials said. First the drones were demonstrated at a closed-door meeting with a few City Council members on Sept. 27 at Police Headquarters by officials who later met with the civil liberties lawyers to discuss the policy on 5th Oct.
At Fort Totten in Queens, police drone pilots demonstrated several scenarios in which the devices could be helpful. Each drone was flown by a two-person team from the Technical Assistance Response Unit: One officer manned the controls, while the second monitored the device in flight. With the purchase of these drones from China based company DJI Technology N.Y.P.D. seems all set to usher in the new drone era in its work-space.
The fleet comprises of eleven DJI Mavic Pro quadcopters, two DJI M210 RTK quadcopters and a DJI Inspire 1 quadcopter.