Out of an abundance of concern over the possibility of aerial terrorism, the NYPD would like permission to remove drones from municipal airspace however they see fit. According to the Wall Street Journal, that could mean shooting them on-sight; it could also mean deploying devices that would disable the drones, but personally I have a hard time envisioning anything but option one.
"The more we see them up there, the more our fear level grows," NYPD Chief of Department Terence Monahan said, according to the Journal. "And we want to make sure we are ahead of the game here."
In addition to their fear that foreign propaganda depicting weaponized drones will give people dangerous ideas, the NYPD points out that these flying machines disrupt commercial aircraft. And true, drones have sowed an unreasonable amount of chaos at global airports in recent months. In December, drones closed London's Gatwick airport for 36 hours over three days before they came for Heathrow in January. On Friday, Dubai International Airport grounded outgoing flights due to "unauthorized drone activity," and closer to home, a supposed drone sighting 3,500 feet above Teterboro, New Jersey snarled plane flow at Newark International Airport in late January.
The NYPD has a special task force to police drone infractions—and also a fleet of its own crime-fighting drones—but local law enforcement must defer to Federal Aviation Administration regulations. And while national law does empower relevant government officials to shoot down private drones they deem threats, the FAA would need to bestow that power upon the NYPD. "We are a unique city," Monahan told the Journal, explaining why he thinks the FAA should do this. "We have so many areas we need to protect."
Sure, but as the Journal points out, none of NYC's drone-related incidents have been injurious or sinister. As it stands, drone enthusiasts may only pilot their sky zoomers in five local parks: in Queens, Flushing Meadows-Corona Park and Forest Park; in Brooklyn, Calvert Vaux Park and Marine Park; in Staten Island, LaTourette Park.
Illegal use may be up across the board, but even in the more serious cases—a civilian drone crashing into a Black Hawk helicopter, for example, or the wind whipping someone's high-tech toy into a neighboring skyscraper—we would seem to be dealing with human error—accidents rather than deliberate attacks.
Counterpoint: terrorism. At least according to FBI Director Christopher Wray, who sees potential for mass destruction in the wide availability of drones, and whose views NYPD officials seem to share.
"You don't want to talk this [the apparently remote possibility of a drone-enabled terrorism] up to the point that gives terrorist[s] ideas," Deputy Commissioner of Intelligence and Counterterrorism John Miller told the Journal. "On the other hand, you don't want to be sticking your head in the sand when it's already all over the terrorists' propaganda."
If the idea of cops taking down drones like clay pigeons makes you anxious (what could go wrong?), don't worry, the NYPD already has the capability to shoot aircraft out of the sky.
And what if the unknown flying object is not a drone but that extraterrestrial cigar ship that occasionally scoots by to make sure us humans aren't down here threatening the whole galaxy's existence?? Seems like pretty risky business to me.