NYPD to Monitor Labor Day Gatherings With Drones

Ryan Morgan
By Ryan Morgan
September 2, 2023New York
NYPD to Monitor Labor Day Gatherings With Drones
A police officer in a file photograph in New York. (Drew Angerer/Getty Images)

New Yorkers may see an uninvited guest at their backyard Labor Day parties this weekend in the form of surveillance drones.

On Thursday, New York Police Department officials announced they would employ surveillance drones to help monitor large gatherings over the Labor Day holiday weekend.

The holiday weekend also coincides with the West Indian celebration known as J’Ouvert. The J’Ouvert festivities will include the West Indian American Day Parade in New York City on Sept. 4.

“The Labor Day holiday weekend is one of the most spirited and festive times of the year in New York City. Both the J’Ouvert festival and the West Indian American Day Parade celebrate rich cultural heritage and showcase our city’s vibrant diversity,” said NYPD Commissioner Edward Caban.

“And it’s the NYPD’s job to keep it safe for everyone to enjoy as we do every year.”

Mr. Caban said the NYPD would have a strong presence throughout the weekend with uniformed officers on foot posts and vehicle patrols.

“And we’ll be using the latest technologies to enhance our security plan,” he added.

Assistant NYPD Commissioner Kaz Daughtry announced that the technology being used for security throughout the city would include aerial drones. Mr. Daughtry said the drones could be used for both “priority and non-priority calls,” including checking on social gatherings.

“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 to make sure if the call is founded or not,” Mr. Daughtry explained. “And we’ll be able to determine how many resources we need to send to that location.”

NTD Photo
A police drone flies in the French city of Marseille on March 24, 2020.
(Gerard Julien/AFP via Getty Images)

Drones Raise Privacy Concerns

The drone-based surveillance methods drew some criticism from local privacy advocates.

Daniel Schwarz, a privacy and technology strategist at the New York Civil Liberties Union (NYCLU), said the drone deployment could conflict with the Public Oversight of Surveillance Technology (POST) Act, a 2020 city law that requires the NYPD to publish its rules and regulations surrounding the use of various surveillance technologies.

“Deploying drones in this way is a sci-fi-inspired scenario,” Mr. Schwarz said.

NYPD policy (pdf) states that an aerial drone, also known as an Unmanned Aerial System (UAS), may be used in a variety of cases, such as search and rescue missions. They can also be used in the surveillance of large inaccessible scenes and “rooftop security observations at shooting or large scale events, public safety, emergency, and other situations with the approval of the Chief of Department.”

NYPD policy further states that “absent exigent circumstances, a UAS will not 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 a UAS.”

Police Overreach?

Albert Fox Cahn, the executive director of the Surveillance Technology Oversight Project (STOP), expressed his own reservations about the use of these drones to monitor backyard parties.

“Clearly, flying a drone over a backyard barbecue is a step too far for many New Yorkers,” he said.

NTD News reached out to the NYPD for comment about its drone use policies but did not receive a response by the time this article was published.

The NYCLU said the use of police surveillance drones in the context of monitoring West Indian cultural celebrations also poses a concern about race-based discrimination.

“Deploying surveillance drones over New Yorkers gathering with their friends and families to celebrate J’ouvert is racialized discrimination, and it doesn’t make us safer,” the organization said in a Friday post on X, formerly Twitter.

NTD Photo
A police sign reads “no music” along the route of a Caribbean street carnival called J’ouvert on Sept. 4, 2017, in the Brooklyn borough of New York City. J’Ouvert, which draws tens of thousands of costumed celebrants, has been plagued by violence in recent years resulting in new intensive security measures. (Stephanie Keith/Getty Images)

J’Ouvert was first celebrated by freed slaves in the Caribbean and has become a tradition in New York City, where more than 600,000 people of West Indian heritage now live.

The heightened security measures come after past J’Ouvert celebrations have been marred by violence. Two people were killed, and five more were injured in shootings and stabbings during J’Ouvert celebrations in New York City in 2016. The celebrations have continued to see violent incidents in more recent years.

The Associated Press contributed to this article.

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