The New York City Police Department said Thursday it plans to pilot drones over outdoor parties and barbecues this Labor Day weekend, spurring privacy concerns.
The NYPD says it plans to pilot the drones in response to complaints about large gatherings, including private events.
“If a caller states there’s a large crowd, a large party in a backyard, we’re going to be utilizing our assets to go up and go check on the party,” Kaz Daughtry, the assistant NYPD Commissioner, said during a press conference Thursday.
The plans drew an immediate response from privacy and civil liberties advocates.
“Deploying drones as first responders and other Sci-Fi inspired scenarios are not what makes us safe. The last thing the NYPD should have is more spy technology,” the New York Civil Liberties Union (NYCLU) posted on social media last week.
NYCLU privacy and technology strategist Daniel Schwarz further asserts that the announcement “flies in the face of the POST Act,” a 2020 New York City law that requires the NYPD to disclose its surveillance tactics.
Mayor Eric Adams (D), a former NYPD captain, has touted the use of drones, noting that Israeli drones which stay in the air longer assist in the early detection of crimes.
In his own social media post, Adams said the use of drones was “so that we can improve city services…This is all about government being more efficient” and removing bureaucratic blocks.
The NYPD has spent hundreds of thousands of dollars on drones this year, and it has used the unmanned aerial devices more in the first 15 months of the Adams administration than in the last 15 months of his predecessor’s tenure, Mayor Bill De Blasio (D).
Data maintained by the city shows New York City’s police department has used drones for public safety or emergency purposes 124 times this year—an increase from just four times in all of 2022.
Nationwide, some 1,400 police departments are currently deploying drones in some form, according to the ACLU.