On November 21 of last year, the New Orleans Police Department announced plans to begin deploying aerial drones “as both a force multiplier and a crime-fighting tool.” The NOPD also announced it would be taking public comment on the proposed policy through December 1—a brief period that included Thanksgiving weekend. The City has already purchased four drones and trained 10 NOPD pilots, spending about $15,000 on the drones and another $85,000 on costs like licensing, spare parts, and batteries, according to Through a public records request, ANTIGRAVITY collected more than 400 pages of comments received by the NOPD on the proposed policy. The following is an excerpt of those comments, edited for length and clarity only. Identifying information other than first names was generally redacted by the City.

I live in Uptown and just learned about the NOPD’s planned addition of drones. I think this is a terrible idea and am opposed to it. Please spend our tax dollars on better safety measures such as improving schools and infrastructure.1Silas

i’m writing to you as a new orleanian and as an attorney who represents people facing criminal charges in new orleans… this next, most recent iteration of proposed surveillance is creepy and leaves great room for abuse. when i think of my home, neighborhood, and neighbors, i think of cypress trees, dogs, crows, pecans, brass instruments—there’s no room for weird drones in that picture. when i think of my clients and their cases, i think of the ways they are profiled, i think of racist pretext stops, and i think of mis/overuse of our already creepy “real time crime cameras”… this proposal makes me feel instinctually icky; constitutional violations will abound should you allow this to go forward. please don’t.2Madeleine

The only use case I think is appropriate to use drones in is search and rescue in the event of a natural disaster. I think they should be deployable for a limited area and time only and with a rigorous system of broad governmental approval.3Simon

I am for Anything that will help us stay safe, and deter the uncivilized citizens from violating law abiding civilized citizens… The police are at a disadvantage with the consent decree. Please do whatever you need to do to win the war. Including searching anyone with reasonable reason. Happy if you search me. I am not carrying a weapon or drugs!!4Keith

NOPD is understaffed. They don’t have time to play with drones. Put more officers on the street and stop with the tech gimmicks.5Matthew

While I’m not specifically against the use of drones by NOPD, a higher priority is enforcement of our laws that contribute to public safety. It’s gotten hazardous to walk or ride in our streets, yet I never see any enforcement taking place with good ole fashioned traffic stops. How is a drone going to perform that?6Craig

Okay y’all. Can we please, please be serious? Literally no one, from anywhere across the political spectrum has any trust in our criminal justice system whatsoever, we’re amongst the most surveilled cities in the country and while the only thing that’s ever been shown to substantially improve crime rates has been economic growth and access to the benefits thereof, you really want to put money into drones?! This is nonsense and y’all know it’s nonsense, and honestly I suspect you all want us to push back so you can leverage it later to put the blame for continuing high crime levels on the citizens of New Orleans.7Sue

Obviously there are threats to privacy, which are exacerbated given New Orleans track-record and ongoing engagements with facial recognition and other surveillance softwares. There are also significant cultural impacts that should be expected—as written this policy allows for and even encourages the use of drones at events such as parades, for example. What does Mardi Gras look like with endless hum of drones overhead? What reverie, joy and community does it unravel or threaten?8Devin

My name is Kyle… a resident of Mandeville and a commercial drone pilot for a small local environmental company… I think one issue that will arise, depending on NOPD’s logistics plan, will be swapping out batteries every 30 minutes to an hour of flight time. I am assuming, however, that these flights will only occur when there is suspicious activity or someone calls something in vs constant monitoring in the sky. As a drone pilot always looking for more meaningful work, if there are any ways I can help or be hired, I would love to know.9Kyle

We have seen [our] tax dollars procure new Harleys, surveillance cameras, jail expansions, and yet the quality of life for New Orleanians continues to decline. Where is the funding for affordable housing, a commitment to banning STRs, expansion of the RTA bus fleet that remains decimated since Katrina, an end to the failed charter school experiment?
Our city does not need more toys that will inevitably be used to terrorize Black New Orleanians… already targeted, incarcerated and terrorized at a disproportionate rate.10Josephine

I live in the fifth district and I’m deeply opposed to your proposed drone program… Cameras don’t stop crimes and they sure don’t seem like they’ve increased the rate of closed cases. I actually have a real time crime camera outside my house and I haven’t heard of [a] single crime it’s prevented or solved. What it does do is light up my bedroom like a disco ball every night, so thanks for that.11Maxwell

Research shows that drone/surveillance actually makes situations less safe. I believe this also poorly impacts communities of color and perpetuates systemic racism. They are already over-policed. In particular, I believe that the drones will make a harmful impact on the mental and physical health of the community, and I am a doctor who practices in New Orleans. Please do not move forward with this policy.12Meeta

As the executive director of New Orleans Area Habitat for Humanity, I support the New Orleans Police Department’s plan to utilize drones for enhanced surveillance, rapid response to theft, and cost-effective policing. Drones offer improved surveillance and monitoring, rapid response to criminal activity, and cost-effective policing, contributing to a safer community and supporting law enforcement efforts.13Marguerite

Please be serious. Extend the shrimpy window for public comment. Give a detailed account of what data is collected and where and how the data will be stored. Eliminate ambiguities about drone use to investigate property crime and to monitor public gatherings. Justify the city’s position that this program would not violate Ordinances section 147-1 [which regulates surveillance technology]. If you want a payoff for the city, break the Short Term Rental abusers with a rod of iron. Do NOT enjoin our city to another frivolous, expensive, RACIST program!!14Jules

To follow up on this issue, you can email your City councilmembers. To submit a public comment, follow instructions at Interested in reading all comments after a meeting? You can email your councilmember or file a public records request.

illustration by Sadie Wiese

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