29 officers have been trained and licensed to operate 14 drones for the NYPD in a unit known as the Technical Assistance Response Unit. These drones will perform a wide variety of tasks such as monitoring both vehicle and pedestrian traffic, surveilling large events, search and rescue, and assisting in other miscellaneous emergencies. It has been a little while since we looked at the emerging market for security drones. It is still true that security drones require human pilots to be effective in a police force, and it is worth clarifying that these UAVs are not autonomous.
The idea is for the drones to act as an advanced party to a crime or emergency scene. Drones having eyes on the situation first gives incident commanders the chance to see what they are getting into before they jump into danger. Unlike in China, where drones disguised as doves watch every living thing in Beijing, these 19 drones will not be used to perform warrantless surveillance, though many still suspect misuse to occur anyway.
Two of the drones are quadcopters with zoom-in cameras and thermal imaging capabilities. The remaining drones are smaller, with one being relegated to training purposes. NYPD has said that these drones are for special situations and not for routine patrol or for use in traffic enforcement. They also claim they will never attach weapons to these machines or use the drones themselves as weapons. Whether or not that is a promise that sticks remains to be seen.
Drone use by police is certainly not new and not just for big city departments anymore. The Center for the Study of the Drone at Bard College has shown over 900 law enforcement agencies with deployed drones at the time of their study. However, that scale of drone surveillance still pales in comparison to what China is executing, and for that we should probably be grateful.
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