Home>Articles>Los Angeles City Council Delays Vote On Donation of Police Robot

Los Angeles City Hall. (Photo: City of Los Angeles)

Los Angeles City Council Delays Vote On Donation of Police Robot

Protestors raised concerns about spying and the use of facial recognition software

By Evan Symon, March 8, 2023 1:58 pm

A Los Angeles City Council decision over whether or not to accept a $280,000 police robot donation for the Los Angeles Police Department was postponed for 60 days on Tuesday following protests by many residents over spying and use-of-force concerns.

Since late 2022, remote control police robots have been under scrutiny at many police departments across California. Successful incidents where police departments across the country used robots to successfully take down suspects posing an immediate threat, such as the Dallas PD using  one in 2016 to kill a sniper shooting at police officers, influenced many to look into the technology. In California, the passage of AB 481 last year, which stated that all law enforcement in California had to make a list of all equipment considered “military,” including what they used it for, led many departments to widen the scope as much as possible to allow for future needs to save lives.

In October of last year, the Oakland PD was looking at arming police robots with more than just pepper spray, including potentially shotguns. However, public outcry influenced the department to drop the idea only days after it was proposed. In the next month, the San Francisco Police Department (SFPD) began pushing for robots to be used in deadly force situations. The Board of Supervisors even allowed it before backtracking in December, denying the SFPD to use robots for all deadly force situations following weeks of protests.

With robots capable of using deadly force proving unpopular, police departments considered using them to peacefully go to dangerous suspects during violent confrontations and enter high-risk situations where the lives of police officers would be at stake. That new mindset initially proved successful in Los Angeles, where a donated dog-like $280,000 police robot was initially approved by both the Board of Police Commissioners and the City Council’s public safety committee. Many were even won over by the LAPD’s insistence that the robot would never be armed with any weapon, that it would never carry facial recognition software, and that it would only be used in limited situations for SWAT team surveillance. However, with a vote in the City Council for final approval looming, protesters against the technology once again came out in force before a key vote to bring up issues surrounding it.

For the LAPD robot, protesters focused on privacy concerns, especially for black and Latino residents of the city. Several raised concerns about spying and the use of facial recognition software being used against the people and to target certain communities, while others claimed that weapons and spying software could always be added in the future despite both needing future Council approval to do so. These were all brought up at the Council meeting on Tuesday.

“You are laying down the foundation for a future that will feature the killing of people by this robot dog,” said one public commenter to the Council on Tuesday.

Another protester, only known as “Jose,” added, “This is a slippery slope. We allow these robots now just to scout out, next we’ll see the police trying to have them with guns or bombs. It isn’t right.”

As the Council meeting went on on Tuesday, some Councilmembers began to side with the protestors in opposition to the robot donation.

“This is a product, and products will meet the needs of desires in the future,” noted Councilwoman Eunisses Hernandez. “Why does our Police Department need a piece of equipment that can even have those capabilities in the future? We know that our Black, brown, immigrant communities and our less resourced communities are so often the places where these new technologies are deployed.”

LAPD robot vote delayed by two months

Due to the concerns raised, LA City Council President Paul Krekorian delayed the vote by two months to respond to questions and public concerns, as well as those on the Council over the donated robot.

Los Angeles City Councilman Paul Krekorian. (Photo: lacity.org)

“I’d like when it comes back to have the policies that are currently in place before the council as a condition to acceptance of this gift,” noted Krekorian. “Delaying the vote by 60 days would also allow us the opportunity to exhaust every opportunity to have responses to the questions that have been raised about existing deployment capabilities and so forth.”

While the decision appeased some, experts noted that the robot would still likely be accepted in May not only for its use, but because anything added specially to the robot, such as weapons or spying software, would need to be rigorously approved. Experts also noted that the Council would look closer into the benefits in having a robot be used in dealing with dangerous suspects, with the big benefit being that the lives of officers and members of the public would be saved as a result.

“These robots aren’t walking around communities looking for people or coming into situations with a gun,” Wesley Riggs, a security merchandise supplier who focuses on non-lethal items, told the Globe Wednesday. “This LAPD donation is especially notable because it walks around like a dog, and isn’t like the specially military-grade ones that are capable of using weapons. This one is just for surveillance to see what a suspect is doing in a lethal situation where a police officer would likely be at major risk, such as a potentially armed suspect being not seen.”

“Say they are behind a concrete wall in a parking garage and that they are likely armed. You need to know for sure so that the police can be better prepared. You send officers in, the suspect may start shooting. But you send a robot in, it would have a different effect, especially one that looks like a dog. It can come in, see what danger the suspect poses, and to the police watching, they can gather what they need to get the suspect in alive and to best gauge what kind of force is needed.”

“That’s all. It is meant to save lives and would only be sent in to see in those few situations where it is unknown and the police cannot readily find out. A lot of these people at the meeting were just ignorant about what the robots actually do. And now we have to wait a few months because of it.”

The next vote over the robot donation is expected to come in early May.

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Evan Symon
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5 thoughts on “Los Angeles City Council Delays Vote On Donation of Police Robot

  1. Traffic cameras, billboards, and hood rat gang-related “art” all make fantastic paintball targets. Gotta be REAL stealthy, tho.

  2. Maybe the radical leftist Democrats on LA’s City Council will turn the robot over to the violent criminals and BLM/Antifa thugs that seem to have taken control over LA streets?

  3. Will have to learn more about this particular technology before concluding anything about it. Maybe it is mostly regarded as a novel toy to be played with for awhile then abandoned when it gets boring.
    But in general what strikes me is that, as usual, whether this stuff is used for good or ill depends upon who is in charge of it. And the City of L.A. has shown it can’t be trusted with much of anything.

  4. SURE – NO PROBLEM… just turn the T-1000 loose on the good citizens of El Lay…. what could go wrong, right???

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