LAPD 'robot dog': Council OKs proposal to accept donation of controversial device for police use

City News Service
Wednesday, May 24, 2023
Council approves donation of controversial 'robot dog' for LAPD use
The Los Angeles City Council approved the donation of a so-called robot dog for use by the LAPD following more than an hour of public comment against the device.

LOS ANGELES (CNS) -- The Los Angeles City Council voted 8-4 Tuesday to approve the donation of a so-called robot dog for use by the Los Angeles Police Department following more than an hour of public comment against the device and criticism from a council member.

The council moved to accept the donation with an amendment introduced by Councilwoman Katy Yaroslavsky to ensure the LAPD provide quarterly reports regarding the deployment of the device, outcomes of the deployment and any issues pertaining to the use of it.

In addition, the council will "closely monitor" the $277,917 Quadruped Unmanned Ground Vehicle and ultimately modify the deployment policy or suspend the use of the device at any time.

"As with the use of any new technology used in policing, it is important that the City Council have appropriate oversight and the ability to modify or half the program if circumstances warrant," Yaroslavsky said.

The device, built by Boston Dynamics, was offered as a donation to the LAPD's Metropolitan Division by the Los Angeles Police Foundation.

Council members Heather Hutt, Curren Price, Nithya Raman and Hugo Soto- Martinez voted against the donation. Council members Eunisses Hernandez and Marqueece Harris-Dawson were absent from Tuesday's City Council meeting.

Most members of the public, who spoke during public comment, urged the council to decline the donation, stating it would only be used to further criminalize and harm the Black and Latino communities of the city.

Protesters fear a robot dog donated to LA will kill and spy on Black and Brown people

"This is the third time that this has been on the agenda and, hopefully, you guys will make the right decision to let this be the last time and strike it out," said Amerald Johnson, who spoke against the robot.

"We, your constituents, do not want the robot dog. It's not just a donation, and this will cost us a lot more in the long run."

Brendan Schulman, vice president of policy and government for Boston Dynamics, and David Kowlaski, deputy chief for the LAPD, came forward to answer questions from Soto-Martinez.

The councilman asked Kowlaski to provide details in which unarmed technology was used in 2022. A LAPD report indicated unarmed technology was deployed 39 times in various parts of the city.

"Obviously, one of the concerns expressed in the last council meeting was whether technology used by us was disproportionately being utilized in some neighborhoods of Los Angeles," Kowlaski said. "A review of those deployments on both the sUAS (small unmanned aerial systems) as well as the (ground-based) robotics, we found no specific trends or patterns related to those deployments."

Soto-Martinez refuted that it "just isn't true," as LAPD unarmed devices were deployed more often in Hollywood and South Central compared to some of L.A.'s more affluent neighborhoods and communities.

Kowlaski reassured the council the LAPD has "clearly defined situations for use with a strict approval process."

LAPD representatives previously assured that the device would be used only in SWAT situations, hazardous-materials or search-and-rescue operations. Police also insisted the robot will never be equipped with any sort of weapons or facial-recognition technology, nor would it be used in any type of patrol operations.