The New York City Police Department decided this week to stop leasing a robotic dog from Boston Dynamics following a sustained outcry from residents and lawmakers, who denounced the use of the high-tech, four-legged device in low-income neighborhoods as a misallocation of public resources and violation of civil liberties.
When the NYPD acquired the K-9 machine last August, officials portrayed "Digidog"—the department's name for the camera-equipped, 70-pound robot—as "a futuristic tool that could go places that were too dangerous to send officers," the New York Times reported earlier this week.
Inspector Frank Digiacomo of the department's Technical Assistance Response Unit said in a television interview in December: "This dog is going to save lives. It's going to protect people. It's going to protect officers."
Instead—thanks to strong backlash from critics, including people who live in the Bronx apartment complex and the Manhattan public housing building where the robotic dog was deployed in recent weeks—the department is returning "Spot," as Boston Dynamics calls the device, months earlier than expected.
Good bye "Digidog" - a good lesson for police forces across the US. https://t.co/N8jFW2lTLN— Jim Murphy (@jimmurphySF) April 29, 2021
According to the Times:
In response to a subpoena from City Councilman Ben Kallos and Council Speaker Corey Johnson requesting records related to the device, police officials said that a contract worth roughly $94,000 to lease the robotic dog from its maker, Boston Dynamics, had been terminated on April 22.
John Miller, the police department's deputy commissioner for intelligence and counterterrorism, confirmed on Wednesday that the contract had been canceled and that the dog had been returned to Boston Dynamics or would be soon.
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Miller told the Times that the police had initially planned to continue testing the K-9 machine's capabilities until August, when the lease had been scheduled to end.
"Robotic surveillance ground drones are being deployed for testing on low-income communities of color with under-resourced schools," Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-N.Y.) tweeted in response. "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?"
And earlier this month, as Common Dreams reported, footage of the robotic dog walking through a Manhattan public housing building went viral, sparking additional outrage and prompting a city council investigation.
"Why the hell do we need robot police dogs?" Rep. Jamaal Bowman (D-N.Y.) asked at the time.
While there are "people living in poverty, struggling to put food on the table, keep a roof over their head, take care of their kids, afford child care—all this going on, and now we got damn robot police dogs walking down the street," Bowman lamented.
Bill Neidhardt, a spokesperson for New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio, who urged the police department to reconsider its use of the robot following objections from residents and lawmakers, said he was "glad the Digidog was put down."
"It's creepy, alienating, and sends the wrong message to New Yorkers," Neidhardt said.