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NYPD Eyeing Drones to Monitor Crowds

By Jill Colvin | January 11, 2013 9:57am

UPPER EAST SIDE — Drones might eventually be used for surveillance in New York City, Police Commissioner Ray Kelly revealed Thursday.

Kelly said the eyes in the sky — which have worried civil rights activists — could prove useful when sizing-up demonstrations, adding to an NYPD arsenal that already includes 3,000 cameras and high-powered anti-aircraft rifles that can shoot down planes.

“We’re looking into it," Kelly told an audience during a rare public interview at the 92nd Street Y Thursday night. “Anything that helps us.”

Kelly noted that drones are widely used in law enforcement, especially along the border.

But New York presents challenges.

“There’s a lot of air traffic," he noted. As a result, “The only thing we would do is maybe use the cheap $250 ones to take a look and see the size of the demonstration or something along those lines."

Kelly noted that a drones program is not being actively pursued at this time.

The potential use of drones was one of several revelations during the far-ranging discussion led by Reuters News' editor-in-chief Stephen Adler, during which Kelly detailed some of the new projects the nation's largest police force has in the works, as well as recent controversies.

In the less-distant future, Kelly said, are plans to allow people to begin filing police reports online, which he said will happen “very soon" for certain types of crimes.

The NYPD recently launched an app that provides real-time information about city crime, and one option the department is considering is adding a reporting function to the app.

“We’re going to be working through this issue as to how you do it,” said Kelly, who noted the option would likely be available only for certain crimes, such as larcenies.

“We would never want people to put crimes-in-progress,” he said, stressing that people should always call 911 in emergencies.

Kelly also weighed in on the push for stronger gun regulations in the wake of the school massacre in Newtown, Conn., saying he had little hope the tragedy would spark major change.

“I must say I am pessimistic about any major changes happening,” said Kelly, who noted that, even if Congress passes a new assault weapons ban and bars high-capacity magazines, that won't curb the handgun epidemic.

“The reality is that on the streets of this city and major cities throughout America, people are being shot with handguns,” he said.

Kelly also defended the NYPD's extensive post-9/11 counter-terrorism efforts, which includes a rarely discussed division of privately paid officers stationed around the world to track potential threats.

The NYPD now has a network of officers stationed in 11 cities across the globe, including London, Tel Aviv, Abu Dhabi, Paris, Toronto and the Dominican Republic, he said.

“What we wanted to do was to put people in positions where they could sort of act as trip wires or listening posts for the city,” he said.

“They’re there primarily to ask the New York questions: Is there anything going on here that can help us better protect New York or we should know about in New York?" he said.

Following the Mumbai attacks in 2008, for instance, officers were immediately deployed to find out what had happened, he said. Within a week, he said, the NYPD had completed an extensive 75-page report, executives had executed a tabletop exercise that replicated the attack, and officers had staged a full tactical exercise at Floyd Bennett Field in Brooklyn.

Without the NYPD's in-house efforts, Kelly said: “We’d probably still be waiting for the federal government.”

As a result of the Mumbai experience, the NYPD now records videos of the interior areas of major city hotels, and keeps blueprints on hand to allow officers to better respond in the event of an attack.