EXCLUSIVE: NYPD expands drone use for crowd control, public safety measures

NEW YORK - The NYPD's current drone program is proving to be instrumental in dealing with large crowds, protests, and spontaneous demonstrations says Chief of Patrol John Chell.

The drones give law enforcement a real-time 5K view of what's happening on the ground and how to deploy officers appropriately, without overdoing it.

"We always use October 7th as our starting point. We've had over 2,600 protests with more than 310,000 participants and 2,800 arrests," said Chell.

It was drone video that helped police decide which window in Columbia's Hamilton Hall to enter to clear out the protestors. Chief Chell says the drones get law enforcement exact information about what's going on, but officers have to have a variety of ways to respond.

"So the new recruits get this strategic response group training, crowd mitigation, best practices, how to move, how to make arrests," Chell said. "So we're trying to expand that throughout the department because the protests are getting bigger and bigger and obviously we're trying to get better and better."

The NYPD's fleet has 81 drones and is run by Deputy Commissioner for Operations, Kaz Daughtry.

"These drones, they can fly in rain, sleet, snow. We don't have to wait for aviation. If aviation is down, we can send our drone up," says Daughtry.

Deputy Commissioner Daughtry says there's no limit to how helpful the drones can be, and the lives they can save.

"These drones are a game changer. We have used this drone, these drones over 480% more than last year." He adds, "We use these drones to look for subway surfers. The drones are deployed every day."

Looking ahead, the NYPD is training with a drone that could help stranded swimmers by flying to them with a flotation device. Daughtry sees the drones as a vital part of next-level precision policing.

"They're our eyes in the sky, A lot of times they're about 250 feet in the air so you're not going to see them, but they're looking around, looking for any anomalies, you know, fights, drinking, disorderly groups," Daughtry said.

Later this week, Deputy Commissioner Daughtry will be testifying before the Homeland Security Committee in Congress about how drones can be used to enhance public safety.