Home > New York City, Privacy > Is The NYPD Experimenting With Drones Over The City? Evidence Points To Yes

Is The NYPD Experimenting With Drones Over The City? Evidence Points To Yes

January 25, 2012


Miami, Cities In Texas Also Said To Be Trying This New Way To Be Eye In The Sky

Drones like this one could very well be hovering over New York City soon. (Photo courtesy: Miami-Dade Police Special Response Team)


NEW YORK (CBSNewYork) — They’re used in war zones for surveillance and military strikes.

But are there plans to deploy drones in the Big Apple to keep an eye on New Yorkers?

More and more people believe it’s inevitable, reports CBS 2’s Don Dahler.

Drones are unmanned aircraft that can fly at low altitudes and shoot live video — or shoot live missiles.

Surveillance cameras already dot the city’s streets, but is the NYPD exploring the use of even more eyes in the skies, in the form of drones? Some evidence points to yes.

A website named Gay City News posted an e-mail it says it acquired through the Freedom of Information Act. It’s purportedly from a detective in the NYPD counterterrorism division, asking the Federal Aviation Administration about the use of unmanned aerial vehicles as a law enforcement tool.

And the following is part of a recent interview with Commission Ray Kelly that raised more questions than it answered.

“In an extreme situation, you would have some means to take down a plane,” Kelly told “60 Minutes.”

Drones are already being used by law enforcement in other cities. CBS 2 has obtained footage of a huge protest in Poland a few months ago, shot by a small drone that could fly a few dozen feet right over the heads of the crowd and the police. High-resolution cameras can capture every detail, including faces and license plate numbers. In this country, Miami and several cities in Texas are experimenting with such aircraft.


“We’re always looking at technology,” said NYPD Spokesman Paul Browne. “Drones aren’t that exotic anymore. Brookstone sells them. We’ve looked at them but haven’t tested or deployed any.”

Former NYPD officer Gary Weksler said drones make sense.

“Not only would it be a form of intelligence gathering to protect the public, it also in many respects removes the officers, who might be attempting to identify issues, from harm’s way,” Weksler said.

But some are concerned about the invasion of privacy. Last month, the American Civil Liberties Union issued a 16-page report citing the growth of the use of drones and the lack of laws protecting citizens from airborne intrusions.

Just the mere possibility that the city could be looking into the use of drone surveillance aircraft prompted one anonymous New Yorker to post official looking NYPD warning signs all over the city.

Some say: “Attention, authorized drone strike zone.”

One Dahler found on Mercer Street said: “Local statutes enforced by drone.”

Given the city’s aggressive use of emerging technologies to stay one step ahead of terrorists, security experts say they’d be surprised if it does not pursue further use of drones.

Small drone aircraft can cost as little as a few hundred dollars.

According to the New Yorker, those bogus NYPD warning signs were put up by an Iraq War veteran who operated Army drones during the war and objects to their use by civilian police.

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