UPDATE: On Tuesday evening, the Public Safety Committee voted 4-1 to approve the donation and use of the machine. The proposal must now be considered by the full City Council.
Tomorrow afternoon, Los Angeles City Council’s Public Safety Committee will decide whether to allow the LAPD to have a robot dog.
The robots (“quadruped unmanned ground vehicles”) represent a flashpoint in the ongoing militarization of municipal policing and, for their uncanny resemblance to dogs, raise questions about the rate and implications of technological advancements. They would be used by LAPD’s SWAT unit.
“This technology will be used to target poor Black and brown communities,” Matyos Kidane of the Stop LAPD Spying Coalition told Knock LA. “Over one-third of instances of drone use by SWAT were in the communities policed by 77th Division, based in South Central Los Angeles.”
One committee member has indicated opposition to the proposal.
“Instead of approving dystopian machines for the LAPD to use to police our communities, we need to invest in things that are proven to actually reduce crime like good union jobs, youth development, and mental health programs,” Councilmember Hugo Soto-Martínez told Knock LA.
Soto-Martínez is the lone Public Safety Committee member whose election was not supported by the Los Angeles Police Protective League.
The department is asking for the full loadout available, which includes an arm that can open doors, an IR camera that provides thermal images back to police, and a mesh network to expand its operating distance from 164 feet to 3,341 feet. The LAPD has also opted for the $1,500 custom logo package, which will allow the robot to don the LAPD logo on its leg.
“I don’t think anybody believes that a corporation, especially one that created a militarized dog, has the well-being of Black and brown communities in mind,” said Kidane.
In the grant request to the LA Police Foundation, the department stated that acquiring this technology will reduce the need to use lethal force and that “less instances of lethal force will garner more community trust.”
However, the use of robots in other cities has been met with skepticism rather than trust. After immense community pushback, the San Francisco Police Department abandoned their plan to use a robot that would have used a bomb to kill a person. The New York Police Department similarly returned theirs due to community concerns after it was seen around the city.
“The $$$ for this robot dog isn’t coming from the general fund – which would subject it to more transparency and scrutiny. Instead, the LAPD is relying on dollars from the secretive Los Angeles Police Foundation to purchase this weapon,” wrote Sergio Perez, the city controller’s chief of accountability and oversight.
“To be clear, we’re not calling for oversight around this. We’re not calling for more policy, more deliberation, more community input. We don’t want this surveillance technology at all,” said Kidane.
The Public Safety Committee meets Tuesday afternoon at 3:30 PM. If the item is approved by the committee, it would then need approval by the full City Council.
This piece has been corrected: an earlier version of this piece misidentified the Police Commission as the Civilian Oversight Commission.