Washington, DC – U.S. Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-New York) went after the New York Police Department’s (NYPD) new crime-fighting robotic dog and complained it was only being tested in minority communities.
“Shout out to everyone who fought against community advocates who demanded these resources go to investments like school counseling instead,” Ocasio-Cortez tweeted. “Now robotic surveillance ground drones are being deployed for testing on low-income communities of color with under-resourced schools.”
Then the controversial Democratic Socialist implied that race was a factor in NYPD’s use of the robotic dog.
“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?” 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?
— Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (@AOC) February 25, 2021
Digidog, who joined NYPD in 2020, has a starting price of about $75,000, the Daily Mail reported.
The robotic dog is currently being tested out by NYPD’s Technical Assistance Response Unit.
It was deployed in the Bronx at a home invasion and barricade scene on Feb. 23 on East 227th Street near White Plains Road in Wakefield, the Daily Mail reported.
Two men had been held hostage and tortured for hours before one of them escaped.
Police used Digidog to determine that the suspects had left the home, the Daily Mail reported.
The high-tech pooch was also deployed in Brooklyn in October of 2020 to help find a gunman who was hiding in a basement and in Queens in November of 2020 for a hostage situation.
Digidog, created by Boston Dynamics, is also being used by the Massachusetts State Police and the Honolulu Police Department, according to the Daily Mail.
Civil rights activists don’t approve of the new technology.
“An army of robots with gun arms is not kicking down your door to arrest you,” Guariglia said. “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.”
“'[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,” he warned.
But he said the surveillance abilities of Digidog are what concern him the most, the Daily Mail reported.
“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,” Guariglia said. “This makes protesters vulnerable to reprisal from police and thus chills future exercise of constitutional rights.”
The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) of Massachusetts has complained about the state police’s bomb squad testing out robotic dog technology.
Records obtained by the ACLU through a Freedom of Information Act request showed that the state police were loaned a dog-like robot named “Spot” from August until November of 2019 by Boston Dynamics, WBUR reported.
The records did not show what exactly the police dog was used for, the ACLU complained.
Massachusetts State Police Spokesman David Procopio said the robot dog was used as a “mobile remote observation device” to provide state troopers with better visibility of suspicious devices or potentially hazardous locations, such as spots where armed suspects could be hiding, WBUR reported.
“Robot technology is a valuable tool for law enforcement because of its ability to provide situational awareness of potentially dangerous environments,” Procopio said in the written statement.
He said that robot dog was used during two actual police incidents in addition to the testing that was conducted, WBUR reported.
Michael Perry, vice president for business development at Boston Dynamics, said the goal is for “Spot” to be useful across a variety of industries including law enforcement, oil and gas, construction, and entertainment.
Perry explained the dog was designed to be able to go into places that are too dangerous for a human, such as chemical spills, suspected bombs, or hostage situations, WBUR reported.
“Right now, our primary interest is sending the robot into situations where you want to collect information in an environment where it’s too dangerous to send a person, but not actually physically interacting with the space,” he said.
Activists have also expressed concern that the robotic dogs could be weaponized like the bomb disposal robot Dallas police armed with explosives in 2016 and used to neutralize the terrorist who had just killed five Dallas police officers during a Black Lives Matter rally, the Daily Mail reported.
But Procopio said that robot dogs were not created to be weaponized, and that is why the company planned only to lease the equipment with agreements that prohibit using the robot to “physically harm or intimidate people.”
“Part of our early evaluation process with customers is making sure that we’re on the same page for the usage of the robot,” he told WBUR. “So upfront, we’re very clear with our customers that we don’t want the robot being used in a way that can physically harm somebody.”