City Council votes to accept donation for controversial LAPD robot dog

Amid lingering surveillance and security concerns, the Los Angeles City Council voted on Tuesday to accept the donation of a nearly $280,000 dog-like robot for use by the police department.

The 8-4 vote followed more than a dozen public comments urging council members to reject the controversial device, which would be paid for with a donation from the Los Angeles Police Foundation.

Board members also approved a plan for the LAPD to provide quarterly reports on the deployment of the device, including where and why it was deployed, the outcome and any issues.

“This article is described as simply accepting a donation, but it really represents an extension of the current boundaries around policing and surveillance,” Council member Hugo Soto-Martínez said before voting no. “That’s not the vision of community that I think Los Angeles should be.”

Although the vote was overwhelmingly in favour, no board member on Tuesday explained why they approved the controversial move. Council member Traci Park, who voted for the device, previously dismissed the suggestion that the robot would set the department “on the path to a dystopian, Orwellian future of state surveillance.”

After the vote, members of the public burst into screams and called council chairman Paul Krekorian “disgusting”. A group of protesters turned disruptive has been evicted, according to LAPD spokeswoman Kelly Muniz.

Minutes later, a man in a puffy black jacket scribbled a series of anti-police messages in permanent marker on the third-floor marble walls leading to the council chamber. Police chased the man through City Hall, but he fled.

A crime report for vandalism has been taken and will be investigated, according to Muniz.

Tuesday’s drama followed a months-long delay in voting to allow board members “to exhaust all opportunities to have answers to questions that have been raised about existing deployment capabilities and so on.” “, said Krekorian in March.

Police officials said the device would only be deployed in a limited set of circumstances that required SWAT team intervention. The device, dubbed Spot, can climb stairs, open doors and navigate rough terrain.

Officials said his presence would allow authorities to avoid unnecessarily endangering officers and potentially avert violent encounters.

Critics pushed back on that claim, expressing concern over the potential for the device to be used to harm and spy on black and brown communities.

Hamid Khan of the watchdog group Stop LAPD Spying Coalition said the LAPD has in the past justified new technologies and programs by saying they would only be used in narrow circumstances. Then, he said, the deployment was expanded.

“That’s what’s going to happen to the robot dog as well,” Khan said. “For us, it is also the trauma of police robots walking everywhere. And yes, there is only one, but it will expand.

At Tuesday’s meeting, several people echoed those concerns throughout public comments. A man told the board he didn’t want to “arm the AI”. Another, expressing his opposition, asked the council: “Haven’t you seen that movie ‘I, Robot’ and ‘(The) Terminator?'”

Others worried about the cost. Although the device would be paid for with a donation, the city would be responsible for future maintenance and repairs.

“Agents are not trained to use this equipment, so where will the money come from when it’s time to start training officers to use the equipment?” Amerald Wheatley-Johnson of the LA Community Action Network asked. “Where will the money come from if you decide to expand this technology? It’s not just a gift, and it will cost us a lot more in the long run.

Before the vote, Soto-Martínez interviewed Brendan Schulman, vice president of policy and government for Boston Dynamics, the device’s maker, and David Kowalski, deputy LAPD chief.

Kowalski pointed to other California police departments that have added the device to their inventory, which he said called it “a game-changer” and “risk-mitigator.”

Soto-Martínez pointed to the disastrous deployment of the robotic dog in New York.

The country’s largest police force first acquired the technology in 2020. Its use only attracted attention the following year, when it sparked public outcry after a viral video showed the robot trotting alongside New York officers during a high-level hostage situation. – erect the social housing building.

Critics denounced the decision to use the device in what they called an over-policed ​​community, and they also raised concerns about privacy and data collection. After several days, the New York Police Department terminated its contract with Boston Dynamics and returned the robot.

“This is a very disturbing automation of law enforcement that sets a dangerous precedent for our future and the safety of our community and for that I will be voting no,” Soto-Martínez said.

Council members Heather Hutt, Curren Price and Nithya Raman also voted against accepting the donation.

Council member Eunisses Hernandez, who opposed the donation, was not present Tuesday to weigh in. Hernandez’s spokeswoman said she was attending the Vienna Social Housing Field Study, a week-long study of social housing in Vienna, Austria, to learn “more.” about this housing framework and how it could be applied to address the housing and homelessness crisis in Los Angeles.

Council member Marqueece Harris-Dawson, who also missed Tuesday’s meeting, is also in Vienna this week.

After the vote, Khan, along with the Stop LAPD Spying Coalition, expressed frustration.

“The LAPD completely controls the city, they control the finances, and the city council continues to respond more and more to their demands,” he said.

The council, he said, has “turned a blind eye to what people are saying. It was an overwhelming rejection from all the speakers.

Times writer David Zahniser contributed to this report.

Los Angeles Times

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