The video shows New York Police Department (NYPD) officers exiting a public housing building in Manhattan on Monday, April 12, with a 70-pound robotic dog outfitted with lights, cameras and artificial intelligence.
The officers had come to the building to apprehend a man who they said had a gun and had been hiding in an apartment with a woman and her baby. But according to the officers on the scene, the robot dog had only stayed in the lobby and did not play an active role in the operation.
The sighting of the robot do was met with outrage. Many bystanders during the operation were audibly voicing their displeasure at the robot.
“What the f*** is this is the exact right reaction,” said New York Times journalist Kara Swisher in a reply to the original tweet.
Even the person filming the video can be heard saying, “I ain’t never seen nothing like this in my life.”
Nah they really got these robot police dogs in NYC. This is wild pic.twitter.com/iG7CTPFevH
— THEE DON (@1800SPOILED) April 12, 2021
Use of robot dog draws criticism
The NYPD’s decision to deploy the robots was met with widespread criticism and raised privacy concerns earlier this year. Last February, the robot dog was used during an operation in a Bronx home to supposedly ensure that there was no one inside.
Throughout all this, the police have maintained that they’re using the technology to save lives.
“The NYPD has been using robots since the 1970s to save lives in hostage situations and hazmat incidents,” stated the NYPD in a tweet last February. “This model of robot is being tested to evaluate its capabilities against other models in use by our Emergency Service Unit and Bomb Squad.”
But despite the reassurances, many remain unconvinced. Many have condemned the robot as a stark example of police power and misplaced priorities in light of the supposed issues that led to the widespread anti-police riots last year. (Related: French Army testing Boston Dynamics’ robot dog in combat scenarios.)
“You can’t give me a living wage, you can’t raise a minimum wage, you can’t give me affordable housing; I’m working hard and I can’t get paid leave, I can’t get affordable child care,” said Rep. Jamaal Bowman, a Democrat representing parts of the Bronx and Westchester County, in a tweet. “Instead we got money, taxpayer money, going to robot dogs?”
During a news conference on Wednesday, April 14, Mayor Bill de Blasio said that, while he had not seen the robot dog, he shared “the concern that if in any way it’s unsettling to people we should rethink the equation.”
De Blasio confirmed that he would discuss the matter with NYPD commissioner Dermot F. Shea.
NYC mayoral candidates jumping on outrage against robot dog
The public backlash against the robot dog could play a role in the city’s upcoming mayoral election, primaries for which are set to take place in June. A number of Democratic mayoral hopefuls have stated their opposition to its use.
One such Democratic candidate, former MSNBC analyst Maya Wiley, characterized the $74,000 robot as wasteful and a threat to New Yorkers.
“Rather than $70m invested into saving residents from dangerous mold & lead paint, N.Y.C. creates another danger for Black & Latino residents?!” Wiley said. “Not when I’m Mayor!”
Meanwhile, Scott M. Stringer, another Democratic mayoral candidate and the city comptroller, said that the NYPD shouldn’t be focused on creating “new and more sophisticated ways to harass the poor and people of color.”
“As mayor, we will invest in people, not police dogs,” he stated.
Other candidates, such as current frontrunner Andrew Yang, have yet to make any statements about the robot dog.
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