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New York City Police to Use Drones on ‘Certain 911 Calls’

In coming months, drones will supplant police emergency response in the Central Park precinct, in three precincts in Brooklyn and one in the Bronx. It’s not yet clear the types of calls on which the drones will be used.

(TNS) — Drones will soon be accompanying cops on 911 calls throughout the city, NYPD officials said.

A new Drone as First Responder pilot program will be in effect in coming months, beginning with four NYPD police precincts and the Central Park precinct, NYPD Deputy Commissioner of Operations Kaz Daughtry announced at a hearing before the House Committee on Homeland Security.

“The plan, to be rolled out in the coming months, is to deploy these drones in response to certain 911 calls for service,” Daughtry told the committee on Thursday, not elaborating on what type of calls the drones will respond to.

Three of the precincts participating in the program are in Brooklyn, Daughtry said. A fourth is in the Bronx. The precincts were chosen “based on recent crime trends,” he explained.

The roofs of the precinct station houses will be retrofitted to support two drone platforms. While the drones will be departing and landing from the station house rooftop, the pilot would be in NYPD headquarters in lower Manhattan and will be sending video and telemetry to cops in the field, Daughtry said.

“The information provided by DFR will be shared with responding officers,” he said. “[It] will enhance officers’ situational awareness as they arrive on scene, promote officer safety, and help us deploy resources more effectively.”

The NYPD currently has 85 drones. The remote fliers are traditionally used to cover major events, such as the New Year’s Eve ball drop in Times Square, large protests, and major police deployments. The drones have also been called into service to check on the structural stability of buildings and bridges after accidents, Daughtry said. Drones have also been utilized to patrol above-ground train lines to watch out for subway surfers.

Drone use by the NYPD jumped more than 400% last year from 2022, but Daughtry said they can’t be used for “warrantless surveillance” as well as “traffic enforcement or immobilizing vehicles of suspects.”

The drones can’t be used on routine patrols either, although it was not clear how the new pilot program will affect that rule.

An email to the NYPD seeking further information about the drone program was not immediately returned.

Critics have blasted the department’s use of drones, claiming the remote eyes in the sky was a “dystopian technology” that tramples on residents’ civil rights.

Last year, a plan to fly drones above Brooklyn’s J’Ouvert festival around Labor Day, a Caribbean-inspired celebration which has been a source of violent clashes in the past, was shot down by the New York Civil Liberties Union as “racialized discrimination.”

“It doesn’t make us feel safer,” said Daniel Schwartz, NYCLU senior privacy and technology strategist. “The NYPD is playing fast and loose with our First and Fourth Amendment rights. Pervasive drone surveillance can be easily misused to exploit and discriminate against New Yorkers, putting all of our privacy at risk.”

©2024 New York Daily News, Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.