On January 10 New York State launched its inaugural aerial drone program. The stated goal of the new initiative is to help state police facilitate traffic safety, respond to emergencies such as forest fires and multi-vehicle crashes, and complete key law enforcement functions.

Four State Police drones are presently in action, covering eight counties in Western New York, seven in the central region of the state, five southern counties west of the Hudson, and ten in the capital region. By April, 14 more drones are expected to be in use, providing comprehensive coverage everywhere.

Governor Cuomo greeted the program as a giant step forward in the safety and protection of people throughout New York State. He predicted that the flying devices would enable a more efficient emergency response system as well as make it safer for NYS troopers to do their jobs. Other proclaimed advantages of drone use include:

  • More rapid reconstruction of serious traffic accidents, so that roads can be reopened more quickly. The evidence collected could even be beneficial in personal injury lawsuits.
  • Photographing and recording crime scenes for use as evidence in a court proceeding.

Drones already have a successful track history of use in search and rescue missions. In June 2014 a Colorado man on vacation in Wisconsin used his drone to locate and help save an 82-year-old man who had been lost for three days. Although search and rescue teams had been trying to find the man using volunteers, dogs, and helicopters, the drone’s owner found him in less than 20 minutes. Officials expect that the New York devices will be put to similar use.

The new police drones are also expected to prove invaluable in police pursuit situations. In 2015 USA Today revealed that in 2014 385 people were killed in high-speed police chases, a 16% increase over the 333 who died the year before. Suspects, police officers, and innocent bystanders were all at serious risk in these reckless driving situations. Drones could make pursuits less deadly by:

  • Reducing the number of police cars that need to be involved in the chase
  • Enabling better and safer suspect pursuit tactics

Drones can also be used to respond to emergencies more quickly than ground transportation methods. Canadian paramedics already include drones in their emergency response tactics by using them to deliver medical equipment like EpiPens and defibrillators to remote locations. People in medical crises can use the equipment to stabilize themselves or someone else until human help arrives.

It has been confirmed that New York State police officers who operate the new drones will complete 32 hours of training with the devices and be FAA-certified.