By DUNCAN OSBORNE
Heads up, park cruisers. The police department may soon be operating unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) “as a law enforcement tool” in New York City, giving that agency the capability to monitor activities in city parks, on streets, and in other public areas from the air.
In January, Gay City News made a Freedom of Information request to the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) seeking “any application or applications made by the New York City Police Department or any other New York City agency to operate an unmanned aerial vehicle in the New York City area.”
In its response, the FAA reported that it had not received any such applications, but it released a December 13, 2010 email to the FAA from a police department detective who wanted to know “who has ‘Certificates of Authority’ to fly Unmanned Aerial Vehicles in the U.S.”
The detective’s name was blacked out, but he was identified as part of the NYPD Counterterrorism Division in his email. He wrote, “Currently, we are in the basic stages of investigating the possible use of UAV’s as a law enforcement tool.”
According to the FAA, 266 certificates of authority have been issued to public agencies to operate UAVs, or drones, in US airspace as of July 26. These agencies include local law enforcement, the Pentagon, US Customs and Border Protection, state universities, and other government entities.
The UAVs are used to fight wildfires, study environmental damage, guard the US borders, and develop more and better UAVs. One police department, the Miami-Dade Police Department in Florida, is known to have a certificate. In published reports, that department has said it uses a small 18-pound UAV to monitor police operations.
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