NEW YORK (PIX11) — Is this part of that new normal we’ve been hearing about? Social media video showing an NYPD “robot dog” at the site of a recent arrest has New Yorkers doing a double-take—at least the ones in the video:
“I never seen nothing like this before in my life,” one person said. “Do you see this?”
An NYPD spokesperson said the department has been using robots in some shape or form since the 1970s, primarily in hostage situations and hazmat incidents.
This particular robot, though, is a breed apart. “Spot” is a product of Boston Dynamics, a company that’s gained notoriety over the years for developing robots that can communicate with each other, open doors, and even dance:
Its use in the NYPD is currently a trial run, a spokesperson said. In his Wednesday briefing, the mayor admitted he was unaware of the use of the robots, but acknowledged that they could certainly make people uncomfortable.
“I certainly share the concern that if in any way it’s unsettling to people, we should rethink the equation,” he said. “So, I don’t know what is being done to test it. I’ll certainly talk to the commissioner about it. I don’t want people to feel, you know, that something is happening that they don’t know about. So, we’ll work that out.”
The arrest in question—where Spot was spotted by bewildered New Yorkers—was related to a domestic dispute involving a firearm at a NYCHA building in Kips Bay.
Officers arrived and discovered an open apartment door, with several people leaving the apartment. A man, 41, was inside of a back room with a mother and her baby—and he might have a gun, the individuals told police as they left the unit.
Police engaged the suspect in dialogue and the mother and child exited; a firearm was located, and the man was charged with criminal possession of a weapon.
A law enforcement source said that the robotic dog seen in this incident was just on standby and wasn’t being utilized—but the department’s Emergency Service Unit that responded to the apartment is one of the teams that are involved in the technology test.
Some Americans and activist groups have also been critical of police departments’ use of artificial intelligence, facial recognition technology, and other advanced tools that could invade the privacy of citizens. Freshman NYC Congressman Jamaal Bowman tweeted:
In another tweet, State Sen. Julia Salazar said the use of these robots is “an appalling manifestation of the surveillance of our communities by law enforcement,” and “an insult to actual dogs.”
The NYPD and other U.S. police departments have been under public scrutiny over the past year, following the death of George Floyd and a season of unrest.
Floyd, a Black man, was killed while in police custody in May 2020. It sparked a summer of protest, with some calling to reimagine or defund American police departments, namely over deadly extrajudicial incidents with people of color that gained national attention. Officer Derek Chauvin is currently on trial for murder in Floyd’s death.