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A Robotic Four-Legged Police Dog Named Spot Might Be Coming To Los Angeles

2:29 PM PST on March 7, 2023

On Tuesday, the Los Angeles City Council discussed approving a $277,000 donation to equip LAPD SWAT units with a robotic dog made by Boston Dynamics that navigates via artificial intelligence, for use during active shooter and barricaded suspect situations.

“I would like to continue this item for 60 days,” Council President Paul Krekorian suggested without objection after more than an hour of intense public comment and discussion among the city council.

Dozens of speakers at Tuesday's meeting criticized the donation as a weaponization of the police department, saying it would be used to target Black and Brown communities. Backers of the donation denied such accusations, insisting the robot would provide another needed tactical advantage for SWAT officers in life-threatening situations.

“Everytime there’s a new technology of any kind being adopted it comes with benefits but it also comes with potential risks and especially the risk of unintended consequences,” Council President Paul Krekorian said during Tuesday’s city council meeting.

Krekonian said the two month continuance would allow the city council to hammer out conditional policies and respond to concerns raised by community-members and various council members. “When we bring it back we will have those policies before us as a condition of this gift,” the council president said.

“The most important thing to emphasize today is the capabilities of Spot are far superior to our current technology that SWAT uses,” a Los Angeles Police Department official said during Tuesday’s meeting. Spot can open doors and climb stairs, explained a representative for the company. “Our fleet of robotics relies upon wheels or tracks and that has limitations through various environments,” the LAPD official told the city council.

Councilmember Soto-Martinez argued that the LAPD already has access to technology that can be deployed in similar situations as the Boston Dynamics’ dog. “Spot just gives us a better ground option,” an LAPD official responded.

“At the heart of a lot of these questions is, ‘does the community trust LAPD?’ And I think the answer is no,” Soto-Martinez said after a brief back-and-forth with representatives from the LAPD and Boston Dynamics. “When they hear this they don’t hear what you’re saying, they hear ‘what's the potential of how this can be used in the community?’”

“It doesn’t help that we have examples in New York.”

Robot police dogs were first acquired by the New York City Police Department (NYPD) in 2020. The largest police department in the country faced criticism a year later when a viral video surfaced of a Boston Dynamics dog walking through a crime scene during a hostage situation at a public housing project. Later the NYPD severed ties with the robotics company.

Critics in Los Angeles are concerned that eventually robot police dogs will be used disproportionately against overly-policed communities of color.

“There’s a long history of mission creep with the LAPD that what we have seen, and everything we have called out has then suddenly been transformed into a much wider expansion of its deployment,” Hamid Khan, organizer with Stop LAPD Spying Coalition, told The L.A. Times. “If we go back historically, the helicopter fleet first came out, then we saw the SWAT and that it’s only going to be in particular situations, but SWAT has been normalized.”

City News Services contributed to this report.

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