Dan Gettinger, the co-director of the Center for the Study of the Drone at Bard College, said privacy concerns are likely to grow as the technology becomes more widespread and the capabilities of the machines increase. More than 900 law enforcement agencies currently use them, he said.
“Drones are a very dynamic platform,” he said. “They’re one thing today, but the technology is going to evolve and sensors are going to become more sophisticated.”
The use of drones by police departments soared after the federal government eased licensing requirements in 2016. The Las Vegas police have used them to monitor New Year’s Eve festivities on The Strip, and the police in Cleveland have used them to pursue suspects.
But protests surfaced over their use in Los Angeles, and in Seattle, where public pressure forced the police to ground their drones in 2013.
The New York State Police have 18 drones, which troopers use for tasks like finding missing people and projecting flood depths. “It’s easier to use a drone than to launch one of our helicopters, and it’s less expensive,” Beau Duffy, a spokesman, said.
Police officials in New York City said they were considering using drones in 2014, and last year the department ordered three for testing. By June, the department had purchased 14. The program cost about $480,000.
Many police departments have started drone programs without the blessing of local authorities, purchasing the devices with federal funds, private donations or through loopholes in procurement processes. The New York Police Department, however, consulted with local elected leaders, among others, on a policy for using drones before they were deployed, officials said.