By Robert J Hansen
Los Angeles, CA – After a lengthy discussion, the Los Angeles City Council postponed a vote on whether to accept a donation of a dog-like robot at Tuesday’s city council meeting.
The device, nicknamed Spot, is being paid for with a donation from the Los Angeles Police Foundation of nearly $280,000.
City Council President Paul Krekorian suggested that the item be continued for 60 days so that the policies currently in place before the council be a condition of acceptance of the dog-like robot.
“When we bring it (the agenda item) back we will have those policies before us as a condition of acceptance of this gift,” Krekorian said.
Several citizens spoke about their concerns with the police and the new technology.
“We don’t need a robot dog,” one man said during public comment. “There has been zero public support for it,”
A woman told the council she feels strongly that the robots, which were designed for military surveillance, will not keep her community safer.
Some council members had concerns about the technology including Councilmember Eunisses Hernandez who spoke in opposition to approving the dog-like robot.
“I have grave concerns about the item before us,” Hernandez said. “Our [citizens are] safest when their needs are met.”
Hernandez said meeting those needs requires a significant investment of the city’s time and money.
“What is before us today does not make our communities safer,” Hernandez said.
LAPD Deputy Chief David Kowalski said the device would be used in limited scenarios and primarily for reconnaissance.
“For this … the criteria is active shooter incidents, assessment of explosive devices and explosions, hostage situations, natural disasters and there are scenarios of prohibited use,” LAPD Deputy Chief David Kowalski said.
Kowalski said Spot would not be armed with any weapons systems, facial recognition technology or used for surveillance purposes.
Brendan Shulman of Boston Dynamics, the company that manufactures the technology, said the company has a strong ethical position on the use of its products.
“They (the police) are prohibited from weaponizing the robot or using the robot to harm or intimidate any person or animal,” Shulman said.
Shulman said that Boston Dynamics does not partner with or support customers who violate civil rights or privacy rights.
“We are aligned in making sure that the product is used responsibly and that is supported by the legal foundations of our contractual arrangement in selling the product to the Los Angeles Police Department.”
The deputy chief said that by adding Spot, the department is enhancing its ability for situational awareness.
“This is the future of policing in terms of technology and putting our officers in the best situation to save lives and prevent them or anyone else from being hurt,” Kowalski said.
Councilmember Monica Rodriguez urged her colleagues to be responsive to the dynamics of what are evolving public safety concerns here in the city.
“Given what we saw in places like Uvalde and given some of the circumstances we’ve even seen here,” Rodriguez said. “We have to be responsive to what those needs are.”
District 3 councilmember Bob Blumenfield said he has the same concerns the public expressed about the policy being amended in the future.
“We all have that fear but I also have that assurance knowing the process that we have here,” Blumenfield said. “That we are the backstop.”
Blumenfield said the council can override any future policy changes that are made that the council doesn’t agree with.
“Every time there’s a new technology of any kind being adopted it comes with benefits and potential risks, especially the risk of unintended consequences,” LA City Council President Krekorian said.
The item will be revisited on May 5, according to the City Clerk.