NEW YORK (FOX 5 NY) - The skies above New York City will be covered by a fleet of drones piloted by police officers.
The New York City Police Department announced its Unmanned Aircraft System (UAS) program on Tuesday. Licensed NYPD officers of the Technical Assistance Response Unit will operate them.
Police officials said they will be used in search-and-rescue missions, to survey inaccessible crime scenes, a hostage situation, and even hazardous material incidents. The department claims that the drones will not be used for "routine patrols" and will not be equipped with weapons.
"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," Police Commissioner James O'Neill said. "Our new UAS 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."
The department plans to operate 11 small quadcopter drones that can be launched quickly for tactical operations.
It also plans to have two larger, weather-resistant drones with 30-time zoom cameras and thermal imaging capabilities, 3D mapping and other features. It also plans to have one drone for training and testing purposes.
The NYPD said more than 900 state and local police, fire and emergency units have drones. NYPD officials met with other police departments to learn about their programs.
The New York Civil Liberties Union said the NYPD's drone policy doesn't do enough to balance public privacy concerns with "legitimate law enforcement needs."
The Legal Aid Society also came out against the drone program, calling it part of the NYPD's "unregulated arsenal of surveillance tools." It warned that it is a dangerous step towards the further militarization of the NYPD.
In the past, the NYPD has raised concerns over terrorists using drones to carry out attacks in New York City. The department would not use its drones against any possible attack.
Instead, John Miller, the NYPD's deputy commissioner of intelligence and counterterrorism, has previously suggested using some of the grant money given by the Department of Homeland Security to develop protection from drones.