The Los Angeles City Council on March 7 postponed making a decision for 60 days on whether to accept a donation of a robotic dog from the Los Angeles Police Foundation.
The foundation proposed donating the $277,917 robot, which is manufactured by Boston Dynamics and is nicknamed “Spot,” to the Los Angeles Police Department for use in specific tactical situations. The department wants to use the robot to “provide enhanced situational awareness” for SWAT team operations such as active shooter responses, assessments of explosive devices, hostage situations, natural disasters, barricaded suspect responses, hazardous materials assessments and search and rescue operations.
The robot, known as a quadruped unmanned ground vehicle, can enter confined spaces carrying cameras with infrared capabilities that can broadcast images to officers in real-time, according to the LAPD. It provides enhanced capabilities while keeping officers out of harm’s way, police said. The robot would not be armed with any weapons, authorities stressed.
The Los Angeles City Council considered the robotic dog after the donation was approved by the council’s Public Safety Committee and the Board of Police Commissioners. The robot has been highly controversial, and opposition surfaced during the March 7 City Council meeting. Many people are concerned the department will use it for surveillance in neighborhoods with people of color, and other uses not allowed under local, state and federal laws, said Councilman Hugo Soto-Martinez, 13th District.
In February 2021, the New York Police Department stopped using a Boston Dynamics robotic dog following backlash after it was deployed during a home invasion investigation. Soto-Martinez, 13th District, said he plans to vote no on accepting the robot when it comes back before the council.
“It’s completely dystopian,” Soto-Martinez said. “This happened in New York and it had terrible negative consequences. It ended up being basically a surveillance tool for Black and brown communities. In San Francisco, they wanted to give it the ability to carry a lethal payload. It’s military equipment, and that’s also a problem. We see so much military equipment coming to municipal departments, and there’s a lack of trust. I get [they] say they will only use it in certain scenarios. We’ve seen them say they are going to use other LAPD [equipment] like drones only for specific uses and now they’re using them for so many things. There’s just a lack of trust between poor, working class communities about how this is really going to be used.”
Councilwoman Eunisses Hernandez, 1st District, also questioned whether the robot is necessary, and asked for a report on how the LAPD uses similar technologies by zip code throughout the city.
Council President Paul Krekorian, 2nd District, called for a continuance of the motion for 60 days, tabling it until at least May 5. Since it was a postponement, no vote was necessary. Krekorian said it will allow time to further analyze potential policy changes on how the robot could be used, how it has been used by other departments and whether other devices already being used by the LAPD, including drones, could fulfill the same needs for the department.
“I’d like, when it comes back, to have the policies that are currently in place before the council as a condition to acceptance of this gift,” Krekorian said. “That will also allow us 60 days to exhaust every opportunity to have responses to the questions that have been raised about existing deployment capabilities.”
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