Skip to main content

Sign up for our newsletter.

Quality journalism. Progressive values. Direct to your inbox.

NYPD's "DigiDog" robotic K-9 unit, manufactured by Boston Dynamics, can climb stairs and run at a speed of three-and-a-half miles per hour. (Photo: FNTV/YouTube screen grab)

Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-N.Y.) criticized the New York Police Department's deployment of a robotic K-9 unit to responde to a home invasion on February 23, 2021. (Photo: FNTV/YouTube screen grab)

Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez Condemns NYPD Test Deployment of K-9 Robot in Bronx Home

"Please ask yourself: when was the last time you saw next-generation, world class technology for education, healthcare, housing, etc. consistently prioritized for underserved communities like this?"

Brett Wilkins

Arguing that money would be better spent on uplifting programs and policies rather than on high-tech policing of underserved communities, Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez on Thursday blasted the New York Police Department for deploying a robotic police dog in a Bronx apartment building earlier this week. 

Responding to a New York Post article about the NYPD's use of a "DigiDog" robotic K-9 unit in response to a home invasion, Ocasio-Cortez (D-N.Y.) tweeted, "Shout out to everyone who fought against community advocates who demanded these resources go to investments like school counseling instead. Now robotic surveillance ground drones are being deployed for testing on low-income communities of color with under-resourced schools." 

Minutes later, she tweeted, "Please ask yourself: when was the last time you saw next-generation, world class technology for education, healthcare, housing, etc. consistently prioritized for underserved communities like this?" 

Boston Dynamics, the manufacturer the "Spot" robot, advertises the 70-pound quadruped—which can run about three-and-a-half miles an hour and climb stairs—for $74,500, retail.

"Spot comes ready to operate, right out of the box," the company's website says. "With its flexible API [application programming interface] and payload interfaces, Spot can be customized for a variety of applications." 

The NYPD version of the robot, which is still in its testing phase, is equipped with additional cameras and lights.

"This dog is going to save lives, protect people, and protect officers and that's our goal," NYPD Technical Assistance Response Unit Inspector Frank Digiacomo told WABC in December. "This robot is able to use its artificial intelligence to navigate things [in] very complex environments."

Boston Dynamics says it does not want Spot weaponized. And while the company says its robots aren't meant to kill people, it's easy to imagine how they could be customized or otherwise used to do just that. In 2016, Dallas police rigged a police bomb disposal robot with explosives to blow up a sniper who killed five officers. 

Matthew Guariglia, privacy policy analyst at the San Francisco-based digital rights advocacy group Electronic Frontier Foundation, wrote earlier this year that "the arrival of government-operated autonomous police robots does not look like predictions in science fiction movies."

"An army of robots with gun arms is not kicking down your door to arrest you," said Guariglia. "Instead, a robot snitch that looks like a rolling trash can is programmed to decide whether a person looks suspicious—and then call the human police on them." And while "police robots may not be able to hurt people like armed predator drones used in combat—yet—as history shows, calling the police on someone can prove equally deadly."

This is especially true given the well-documented algorithmic racial bias to which artificial intelligence is prone. 

A more insidious threat of police robots, says Guariglia, involves surveillance. 

"The next time you're at a protest and are relieved to see a robot rather than a baton-wielding officer, know that that robot may be using the IP address of your phone to identify your participation," he wrote. "This makes protesters vulnerable to reprisal from police and thus chills future exercise of constitutional rights."

Our work is licensed under Creative Commons (CC BY-NC-ND 3.0). Feel free to republish and share widely.

This is the world we live in. This is the world we cover.

Because of people like you, another world is possible. There are many battles to be won, but we will battle them together—all of us. Common Dreams is not your normal news site. We don't survive on clicks. We don't want advertising dollars. We want the world to be a better place. But we can't do it alone. It doesn't work that way. We need you. If you can help today—because every gift of every size matters—please do. Without Your Support We Simply Don't Exist.

'Political Malpractice': House Democrats' Bill Wouldn't Add Dental to Medicare Until 2028

"I don't want to see it drawn out to as far as the House has proposed," Sen. Bernie Sanders said during a recent press call.

Jake Johnson ·

'How Many More Deaths Must It Take?' Barbados Leader Rips Rich Nations in Fierce UN Speech

"How many more variants of Covid-19 must arrive, how many more, before a worldwide plan for vaccinations will be implemented?"

Jake Johnson ·

To Avert Debt Ceiling Calamity, Democrats Urged to Finally Kill the Filibuster

"The solution is to blow up the filibuster at least for debt limit votes, just as Mitch blew it up to pack the Supreme Court for his big donors."

Jake Johnson ·

Biden Decries 'Outrageous' Treatment of Haitians at Border—But Keeps Deporting Them

"I'm glad to see President Biden speak out about the mistreatment of Haitian asylum-seekers. But his administration's use of Title 42 to deny them the right to make an asylum claim is a much bigger issue."

Jessica Corbett ·

Global Peace Activists Warn of Dangers of US-Led Anti-China Pacts

"No to military alliances and preparation for catastrophic wars," anti-war campaigners from over a dozen nations write in a letter decrying the new AUKUS agreement. "Yes to peace, disarmament, justice, and the climate."

Brett Wilkins ·

Support our work.

We are independent, non-profit, advertising-free and 100% reader supported.

Subscribe to our newsletter.

Quality journalism. Progressive values.
Direct to your inbox.

Subscribe to our Newsletter.

Common Dreams, Inc. Founded 1997. Registered 501(c3) Non-Profit | Privacy Policy
Common Dreams Logo