After a protracted debate, Los Angeles City Council President Paul Krekorian postponed a controversial vote on Tuesday on whether to accept the nearly $280,000 donation of a dog-like robot to the LAPD.
“I would like if it comes back, the policy currently in place before the council as a condition of accepting this gift,” Krekorian said towards the end of Tuesday’s discussion.
Postponing the vote by 60 days, he said, “would also give us an opportunity to take every opportunity to get answers to the questions that have been raised about the existing betting options and so on.”
Police officials say the device, nicknamed Spot, would only be deployed in limited circumstances requiring a response from the SWAT team. Its presence, they argue, would allow authorities to avoid unnecessarily endangering officers and avoid potentially violent encounters.
Officials said it would be paid for with a donation from the Los Angeles Police Foundation. The city would be on the hook for future maintenance and repairs.
Both the Board of Commissioners of Police and the Board’s Public Safety Committee have approved the move.
But opposition to the robots has grown in the weeks since, with critics pointing to the technology’s disastrous deployment in New York City. Many have questioned the device’s public safety implications and expressed concerns about its potential for abuse to harm and spy on black and brown communities.
Some of those passions spilled over into Tuesday’s meeting.
Several speakers raised concerns about privacy and data collection during a public comment period.
Later in the meeting, Councilman Eunisses Hernandez said she was concerned about future applications, despite insistence from LAPD officials and manufacturer Boston Dynamics that there are no plans to equip Spot with facial recognition capabilities or weapons.
“This is a product and products will meet the needs of desires in the future,” said Hernandez, a staunch critic of the device, who said she plans to vote against the donation. “Why does our police need a device 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 where these new technologies are deployed.
Councilman Traci Park, who voted in favor of the technology on the public safety committee, rejected suggestions that the robot would set the department “on a path toward a dystopian, Orwellian future of state surveillance.”
Times staff writer David Zahniser contributed to this report.