The New York Police department has been using drones in a limited capacity for years — deploying unmanned aircraft systems for search and rescue missions, to document crime scenes, or to monitor large public events like New Years Eve in Times Square. Soon, you might see one in your backyard as well: NYPD officials have announced plans to use drones to follow up on noise complaints during the long Labor Day weekend.
“If a caller states there is a large crowd, a large party in a backyard, we’re going to be utilizing our assets to go up and check on the party,” Assistant NYPD Commissioner Kaz Daughtry said during a press conference Thursday. Privacy advocates have been quick to respond, with a representative from the New York Civil Liberties Union telling the Associated Press that the announcement “flies in the face of the POST Act” that requires police to publish its use policies for surveillance technology.
And indeed, the plan could represent a stark departure from those policies. When the Department first announced its new drone program, it promised that the technology wouldn’t be used for “warrantless surveillance.” That pledge is reflected in the NYPD’s POST Act Unmanned Aircraft Systems: Impact and Use Policy, which specifically states that (absent exigent circumstances), drones are not to be used “in areas where there is a reasonable expectation of privacy without NYPD personnel first obtaining a search warrant that explicitly authorizes the use of UAS.”
It’s unclear if the department plans to obtain a warrant for noise complaints at private events over Labor Day weekend, or if such a complaint falls under “exigent circumstances.” Even so, the NYPD has been increasing drone use in recent years, and has deployed unmanned aerial systems 124 times in 2023.