A ‘knock-off RoboCop’: Robot police dog returns to NYPD despite criticism

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New York City officials have unveiled three new high-tech policing devices – including a robotic dog that critics called creepy when it first joined the police pack two-and-a-half years ago.

The new devices, which also include a GPS tracker for stolen cars and cone-shaped security robot, will be rolled out in a manner that is “transparent, consistent and always done in close collaboration with the people we serve”, said police Commissioner Keechant Sewell, who joined mayor Eric Adams and other officials at a Times Square press conference where the security robot and the mechanical canine nicknamed Digidog were displayed.

“Digidog is out of the pound,” said Mr Adams, a Democrat and former police officer.

“Digidog is now part of the toolkit that we are using.”

The city’s first robot police dog was leased in 2020 by Mr Adams’ predecessor, former mayor Bill de Blasio, but the city’s contract for the device was cut short after critics derided it as creepy and dystopian.

Mr Adams said he will not bow to anti-robot dog pressure.

“A few loud people were opposed to it and we took a step back,” the mayor said.

“That is not how I operate. I operate on looking at what’s best for the city.”

Police Robots NYC
New York Mayor Eric Adams inspects the Digidog mobile robot (New York City Office of The Mayor via AP)

“If you have a barricaded suspect, if you have someone that’s inside a building that is armed, instead of sending police in there, you send Digidog in there,” he said.

“So these are smart ways of using good technologies.”

Tracking system StarChase will let police launch a GPS tag that will attach itself to a stolen car so officers can track the vehicle’s location.

The New York Police Department’s pilot programme for using the system will last 90 days, officials said.

The Autonomous Security Robot, which Mr Adams compared to a Roomba, will be deployed inside the Times Square subway station in a seven-month pilot programme starting this summer, police officials said.

The device, used in shopping centres and other locations for several years, will at first be joined by a human partner, police said.

Civil libertarians and police reform advocates questioned the need for the high-tech devices.

“The NYPD is buying robot dogs and other fancy tech while New Yorkers can’t access food stamps because city agencies are short-staffed, and New Yorkers are getting evicted because they can’t access their right to counsel.”

Albert Fox Cahn, executive director of the Surveillance Technology Oversight Project, said: “The NYPD is turning bad science fiction into terrible policing. New York deserves real safety, not a knock-off RoboCop.”

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