New York City Police Plan to Use Robotic Dogs

From a Wall Street Journal story by Jimmy Vielkind headlined “NYPD Plans to Deploy Robotic Dogs”:

The New York Police Department will use more robots to fight crime, Mayor Eric Adams said.

The initiative includes the deployment of a “K5” unit in Times Square that will help beat officers with surveillance. The city also acquired two robotic dogs—which the NYPD calls “Digidogs”—that will be used at incidents such as hostage situations, officials said. Another device will shoot tracking devices onto suspect vehicles.

The NYPD experimented with the robotic dogs in 2021, but it abandoned them over backlash from progressive lawmakers and civil- liberties groups who were concerned about the over-militarization of police. Opponents reiterated the concerns Tuesday.

Mr. Adams, a former NYPD captain who was elected in 2021 on a platform of reducing crime, said the criticism was coming from a vocal minority. He said that police using robotics in the 21st century was akin to the earlier adoption of fingerprint technology.

“If we were not willing to move forward and use technology on how to properly keep cities safe, then you will not keep up with those doing harmful things,” he said. “Digidog is out of the pound.”

The city will lease one K5—which moves similar to a Roomba and looks like a 5-foot R2-D2—for use in the Times Square subway station starting in the summer, according to NYPD Chief of Department Jeffrey Maddrey. The robot moves autonomously and is equipped with a video camera, microphones, speakers and thermal detectors, according to manufacturer Knightscope.

The cone-shaped device will provide “real-time situational awareness and actionable intelligence,” Mr. Maddrey said. No facial-recognition technology will be used, NYPD Commissioner Keechant Sewell said.

The so-called digidogs, meanwhile, are remote-controlled, four-legged units that can climb stairs. They will be used to investigate sites with possible hazardous materials, or to approach barricaded suspects, officials said. The robots are often used for inspecting infrastructure or manufacturing facilities, according to online materials from manufacturer Boston Dynamics, Inc. The company didn’t immediately return a message seeking comment.

The Surveillance Technology Oversight Project, an advocacy group, belittled the devices as “knockoff robocops” and said that the city should use its resources in more proven ways. “The NYPD is turning bad science fiction into terrible policing,” Albert Fox Cahn, the group’s executive director, said in a statement, referencing the 1987 film “RoboCop.”

The left-leaning Working Families Party criticized Mr. Adams for devoting resources to the robots when his administration has proposed cuts to libraries and is mandating that city agencies trim costs. Mr. Adams said “there is never the wrong time for public safety” investments.

Patrick J. Lynch, president of the Police Benevolent Association, said the bots might help in some areas but can’t substitute for human officers. “Fixing our staffing shortage should continue to be the NYPD’s top priority,” he said.

The city paid $750,000 for the robotic canines using money that was seized from criminals, an NYPD official said. The K5 is being leased for six months at a cost of roughly $9 per hour, according to Knightscope chairman and CEO William Santana Li. The total cost will be around $12,250, a spokesman for Mr. Adams said.

The company has about a half-dozen law enforcement clients, including Huntington Park, Calif., where a K5 unit is used to patrol a park. Mr. Adams learned of the robot and called the company, Mr. Li said.

“We need to give the officers on the ground really smart eyes and ears,” Mr. Li said. “You can’t triple-shift a human.

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