See Spot Run: LAPD Gets Its Robot Police Dog

The Los Angeles City Council voted 8-4 Tuesday to approve the addition of a robotic dog to the Los Angeles Police Department. The quadrupled unmanned ground vehicle named “Spot” has set off a firestorm with civil rights advocates and some members of the dais.

The $280,000 device was donated to LAPD by the Los Angeles Police Foundation. But it’s not necessarily free, since LAPD will be responsible for repairs and maintenance.

The dog will not carry weapons or be equipped with facial recognition technology, the department said. Its use will be limited to “incidents involving active shooters, assessment of explosives, hostage situations, natural disasters, hazardous materials assessment, barricaded suspects and search and rescue missions."  

At the meeting Tuesday, attendees nevertheless expressed “grave concerns” about the four-legged bot. In particular, critics fear it could be used to target and harass marginalized individuals and people of color.

“This item is being painted as merely an acceptance of a donation, but it really represents an expansion of the current boundaries around policing and surveillance,” said L.A. Councilmember Hugo Soto-Martínez.

Soto-Martínez was joined by councilmembers Heather Hutt, Curren Price and Nithya Raman in voting against the acquisition. Councilmember Eunisses Hernandez, who also opposes the device, was absent.

Spot’s birth comes at a time of increased concern over the militarization of police departments. It also follows several high profile stories that have raised disturbing questions about the nature and capabilities of AI.

Is Spot a good boy? Let’s hope.