New York CIty Council Member Ben Kallos

New York Times N.Y.P.D. Robot Dog’s Run Is Cut Short After Fierce Backlash by Mihir Zaveri

N.Y.P.D. Robot Dog’s Run Is Cut Short After Fierce Backlash

When the Police Department acquired a robotic dog last year, officials heralded the four-legged device as a futuristic tool that could go places that were too dangerous to send officers.

“This dog is going to save lives,” Inspector Frank Digiacomo of the department’s technical Assistance Response Unit said in a television interview in December. “It’s going to protect people. It’s going to protect officers.”

Instead, the machine, which the police named Digidog, became a source of heated debate. After it was seen being deployed as part of the response to a home invasion in the Bronx in February, critics likened it to a dystopian surveillance drone.

And when officers used it at a public housing building in Manhattan this month, a backlash erupted again, with some people describing the device as emblematic of how overly aggressive the police can be when dealing with poor communities.

Now, the robotic dog’s days in New York have quietly been cut short.

In response to a subpoena from City Councilman Ben Kallos and Council Speaker Corey Johnson requesting records related to the device, police officials said that a contract worth roughly $94,000 to lease the robotic dog from its maker, Boston Dynamics, had been terminated on April 22.

John Miller, the Police Department’s deputy commissioner for intelligence and counterterrorism, confirmed on Wednesday that the contract had been canceled and that the dog had been returned to Boston Dynamics or would be soon.

In an interview, Mr. Miller said the lease had been scheduled to end in August and that the police had planned to test the robotic dog’s capabilities until then. The department changed its plans, he said, after the device became a “target” for people who he said had improperly used it to fuel arguments about race and surveillance.

“People had figured out the catchphrases and the language to somehow make this evil,” Mr. Miller said.

Mr. Kallos, a Democrat who represents the Upper East Side, took a different position, saying the device’s presence in New York underscored what he called the “militarization of the police.” He said the robotic dogs resembled those featured in the 2017 “Metalhead” episode of the television show “Black Mirror.”

“At a time where we should be having more beat cops on the street, building relationships with residents, they’re actually headed in another direction in trying to replace them with robots,” he said.

A spokesman for Mayor Bill de Blasio, Bill Neidhardt, said he was “glad the Digidog was put down.”

“It’s creepy, alienating and sends the wrong message to New Yorkers,” Mr. Neidhardt said.

The robotic dog’s arrival in New York came amid growing scrutiny of law enforcement agencies across the United States over their policies and practices. New York’s City Council passed a bill last summer after the police killing of George Floyd that for the first time required the Police Department to disclose information about its sophisticated arsenal of surveillance tools, which includes license plate readers, cellphone trackers and drones.


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