NEW YORK (CBSNewYork) – Buzzing high above the East River is one of two new NYPD drones that will be flying over millions of spectators expected at the Fourth of July fireworks show Thursday.
“We can’t have a cop in every location but we could fly the drone to see what’s going on,” the NYPD’s Frank DiGiacomo said.
The Technical Assistance Response Unit (TARU) took CBS2 along exclusively as its specially trained drone pilots practiced taking off from Brooklyn Bridge Park. On Thursday, police will patrol from the sky with their feet still on the ground.
“We’ll go up, give command staff perspective of where they need to move personnel around,” Det. Deeu John said.
“Once you spot something, then what happens?” CBS2’s Ali Bauman asked.
“Then we make a notification. Either we call our fellow police officers, we have emergency service, we have FD, EMS,” DiGiacomo added.
The NYPD only started using drones eight months ago and plan to put them above every big event.
On Thursday, they’ll be able to fly 400 feet up, half a mile out, and even speak to people below.
“If someone’s in distress we’ll be able to let them know help is coming. We can also give commands in a situation,” DiGiacomo explained.
That’s what happened earlier this year in Brooklyn, when TARU officers used a drone to talk to an armed suspect who had barricaded himself in a 15th floor apartment.
“They were actually with the drone able to speak to him, he put the gun down, and they were able to get in there… get the person help.”
New York is a particularly hard city to operate a drone through on a regular day and Thursday the officers will have the added challenges of flying at night, around fireworks, and over massive crowds
“There’s a lot of aircraft in this area. Tall buildings, electromagnetic interference, radio frequency interference… so we have to constantly monitor the drones we fly to make sure they have good connectivity with controllers and keep an eye on it a little bit more than you would another part of the country,” Det. John said.
As for the line between security and surveillance, “we’re not zooming in on any faces or anything like that,” Det. John added.
“But if there is criminality going on we can zoom into faces and get a more detailed description.”