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Drones

NYPD powers up drone squad and promises not to spy on people

It says the 14 quadcopters will be used for hostage situations and inaccessible crime scenes.

NYPD Insignia on Side of Helicopter

The NYPD says its new drone squad will only be deployed for specific operations.

Mark Peterson/Corbis via Getty Images

The New York Police Department is deploying drones and training a select group of officers to operate them,

The department said Tuesday that the unmanned aircraft system program will bring it in line with more than 900 police, fire and emergency units across the US.

The NYPD will use 11 DJI Mavic Pro quadcopters for tactical operations, a pair of DJI Matrice 210 RTK quadcopters for 3D mapping in search and rescue work, and a DJI Inspire 1 quadcopter for training.

A group of 29 officers from the Technical Assistance Response Unit will be trained to use them.

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It promised to restrict the drones' use to search and rescue, hostage situations, remote crime scenes, incidents involving hazardous materials, monitoring crowds at large events and collision documentation.

They won't be used for routine patrols, traffic enforcement, immobilizing vehicles or suspects, as a weapon, or for warrantless searches.

"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," NYPD Commissioner James O'Neill said in a release. "Our new UAS program is part of this evolution."

Despite the restrictions, the NYPD policy allows the drones to be used in other emergency situations with the chief of department's approval, and civil liberties lawyers say the policy doesn't go far enough toward preventing misuse, the New York Times reported.

The New York Civil Liberties Union met NYPD officials about the drones prior to Tuesday's announcement, but noted that the department rejected recommendations requiring it to regularly disclose how often and why the devices are used. 

"The NYPD's drone policy places no meaningful restrictions on police deployment of drones in New York City and opens the door to the police department building a permanent archive of drone footage of political activity and intimate private behavior visible only from the sky," Christopher Dunn, NYCLU's associate legal director, said in an emailed statement.

"While we appreciate the NYPD's willingness to meet with us before it announced this program, we believe the new policy falls far short of what is needed to balance the department's legitimate law-enforcement needs against the privacy interests of New Yorkers."

The NYPD will voluntarily report aggregate data about the program, department spokesperson Devora Kaye, the department's assistant commissioner for external affairs, said in an email to CNET.

The program in New York City follows DJI partnering with Taser-maker Axon to supply US law enforcement with drones over the summer, as more police departments adopt drones.

First published at 6:44 a.m. PT.
Updated at 7:28 a.m. PT: Added NYCLU statement.

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