The use of drones by law enforcement has become a critical tool to help solve crimes and keep the public safe. But the use of the technology is getting some pushback from some people who say they’re a violation of privacy and other rights.
Law enforcement essentially has the green light in most areas of New York state to use drones as it sees fit. There are FAA guidelines for unmanned aircraft technology, but the use of drones by police agencies is taking off.
“What these systems have allowed us to do is to give them a view that has never been seen before," said Monroe County Sheriff’s Deputy Matthew Whiting, who is part of the Drone Response Team. “It allows us to give that overall picture [and] see things on a flat plane, as opposed to trying to just see it in front of them.”
In Monroe County, drones are used for such police work as missing person searches, assisting the fire bureau, tracking suspects, documentation of larger crime scenes and more.
Depending on the drone, features include cameras with wide angles, zoom and record capability, thermal imaging and heat sensor technology. They can see through smoke and steam, have infrared capabilities and can deliver emergency items.
Just this past weekend, police say a drone helped police capture a suspected burglar in Monroe County.
“To the best of my knowledge, it turned out to be the suspect who still had property on his person that was from that burglary," Whiting said. While the drones serve their purpose for police departments and sheriff’s offices across the state, the New York City Police Department is fielding some complaints about the unmanned aircraft.
"We believe that drones shouldn’t be used for First Amendment-protected activities,” said Daniel Schwarz, a senior privacy and technology strategist for the New York Civil Liberties Union. “So no drones at protests.”
The organization is among the groups taking issue with the NYPD’s plans for drones at Western Indian American Day over the Labor Day holiday.
This comes as the NYCLU calls on lawmakers to restrict the use of drones.
"I think drones can have a place in the toolbox for law enforcement,” Schwarz said. “And we’re not looking to fully ban their use overall. We just believe we need to have an open conversation on the rights, restrictions and limitations for this technology. And so far this hasn’t happened.”
The NYCLU recently released a report detailing a rapid increase in the use of drones. The Monroe County Sheriff’s Office has 21.
“We are not flying to just fly,” Whiting said. “We're not flying to go and look on a property unless there is a reason for it. Something has to lead us to being here.”