NYPD is quietly investing in an enormous arsenal of surveillance tech

Face recognition and personal identification technologies in street surveillance cameras, law enforc...


Total slush funds spent by the NYPD on surveillance tech.


America’s cops love buying top-tier surveillance technology with taxpayer money. This is a fact well-documented in 2021, even if the companies providing that tech do everything in their power to keep those acquisitions and special deals on the DL. So we’re not exactly shocked to hear that the New York Police Department (NYPD) has spent upwards of $159 million on surveillance systems since 2007.

Okay, scratch that — the number is shocking. The fact that the NYPD is buying up tons of tech in an effort to maintain its long-going power trip? Not so much.

As if purchasing hundreds of millions in surveillance tech weren’t sketchy enough, the NYPD went about doing so in the most secretive way possible: a “Special Expenses Fund” that doesn’t require approval from any municipal powers. The contents of the Special Expenses Fund are kept mostly under wraps by the NYPD; it’s only through the research of two civil rights groups — the Surveillance Technology Oversight Project (STOP) and the Legal Aid Society — that we know how this money is being spent.

Still lots we don’t know — The NYPD’s surveillance shopping spree has been kept so secret that, even with these documents in-hand, STOP and the Legal Aid Society can’t deduce all that much about what, exactly, the NYPD has been buying. The documents are that heavily redacted.

Here’s what we have learned: NYPD has, in the last decade and a half, entered into a number of contracts with companies offering dedicated surveillance technology. These contracts include a $6.8 million one to Idemia Solutions, a company that makes facial recognition tools; a five-year, $800,000 contract with Elbit Systems, Israel’s largest defense contractor; and a three-year, $750,000 contract with American Science and Engineering, which makes X-ray vans.

A call to action — $157 million is a remarkably high figure for secretive purchases, even by government standards. STOP and the Legal Aid Society hope that making their findings public will spur the public into making some noise. Jerome Greco of the Legal Aid Society says, “There's always a concern when it comes to the NYPD that there's something else that is being hidden. And that's why I think it's really important that we don't just let this go.”

The NYPD, meanwhile, isn’t ready to fess up to anything, even with all the proof provided by these documents. A spokesperson for the NYPD commented: “No police department or federal agency has gone to the level of depth and transparency on law enforcement tools used in the field that the NYPD did in its POST Act disclosures.”

This, coming from an organization that created a “transparency” database that leaves out thousands of complaints. From an organization that is possibly maybe using Amazon delivery vans to hide its activities and spent $159 million in slush funds on secret surveillance tech.