Civil Liberties Advocates Oppose NYPD Expanded Drone Use Over Holiday

By The Vanguard

NEW YORK CITY, NY – Civil liberties advocates here denounced plans by the New York City Police Department deployment of a fleet of hi-tech drones during the Labor Day weekend to monitor complaints about large gatherings associated with West Indian American Day celebrations, according to a CNN story.

“Police enforcement for the yearly festivities have previously been marred by violence…NYPD officers are now paired with representatives of the Department of Buildings and other city agencies to tackle non-emergency complaints such as noise. Authorities have said those complaints are usually a precursor to violence,” said CNN.

“Pervasive drone surveillance can be easily misused to exploit and discriminate against New Yorkers, putting all of our privacy at risk,” Daniel Schwarz, a privacy specialist at the New York Civil Liberties Union, said in a statement in response to the NYPD’s planned drone use over the Labor Day weekend. 

Schwarz added, “As the NYPD keeps deploying these dystopian technologies, we must push for stricter guardrails – especially given the department’s lengthy history of surveilling and policing Black and Brown communities.” 

CNN noted “Police departments have been scaling up their use of drones, according to the ACLU, estimating 1,400 departments already use the technology with more not only poised to use drones but using them to respond to domestic incidents, wellness checks and even noise complaints.

“If the police are sending a drone to every non-emergency situation, just because it might become an emergency situation, they are going to be sending an enormous number of drones flying across American cities and towns with intense regularity,” said Jay Stanley, a senior policy adviser for the ACLU who has written about drone use expanding without oversight.

“If communities don’t put some brakes on law enforcement’s use of drones, it’s going to become an everyday presence in many places. It shouldn’t just be on the whim of a mayor. It should be discussions in the communities that can be helped by law enforcement and harmed.” 

Mayor Eric Adams, a former NYPD officer himself, has pushed back against criticism of the policing tactic. The technology isn’t to spy on revelers but to better deploy officers and crisis management teams, he said at a Friday briefing. 

“There are a number of calls of loud music, disruptive behavior. Instead of the police having to respond and look at those, they’re going to utilize drones from a safe distance, not down, flying into someone’s backyard to see what they have on the grill,” Adams said. 

“They’re going to utilize the drones to determine, should they send crisis management teams there right away to help mitigate the problem,” he added. 

CNN reported NYPD plans to operate numerous drones by “different teams of officers, a scaling up from years past, when the NYPD only had a small number of devices in the air, according to a law enforcement official.”

The drones will have different capabilities, added CNN, noting “some are designed to give an audio message while others have high-powered cameras that stream video to NYPD command centers, tablet devices in patrol cars and mobile devices in officers’ hands, the official said.”

The drones, the mayor said, would help officers see what is happening in seconds, and help them determine which situations need a rapid response, rather than deploying officers to rush through congested streets and wade through crowds. 

CNN reported, “Drones were used during the Gay Pride Parade in June to disperse large crowds using the devices’ sound systems. They also gave police a bird’s-eye view as thousands jammed into Union Square in August after a social media influencer’s promise to give away free electronic gaming equipment gave way to violence. 

“The drone use during Labor Day weekend marks the first time the technology will be used to monitor private gatherings associated with the West Indian celebrations.”

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