With some members expressing concern about its possible deployment and fear of fueling mistrust against the Los Angeles Police Department, the City Council has delayed for 60 days a vote on whether to accept a donation of a $278,000 dog-like, four-legged robot for use in SWAT operations.
The “Quadruped Unmanned Ground Vehicle” is being donated to the LAPD’s Metropolitan Division by the Los Angeles Police Foundation. But dozens of activists loudly protested during Tuesday’s council meeting, saying the device would become a tool for the LAPD to harass and conduct surveillance of Black and Brown communities.
One speaker boldly claimed the robot will be used “to punish and torture people.”
Others denounced the machinery as something nobody wants, and claimed it would add more military-style equipment to a municipal police agency.
“Nobody wants this,” activist Eddie Jones told the council. “For the love of God, do the right thing and vote this measure down.”
Several council members, including Eunisses Hernandez and Hugo Soto-Martinez, vowed to oppose the donation, despite repeated assurances from LAPD representatives that the device would be used only in SWAT or hazardous-materials or search-and-rescue operations. Police also insisted that the robot will never be equipped with any sort of weapons or facial-recognition technology, nor would it be used in any type of patrol operations.
Hernandez said she has “grave concerns” about the device, saying it “does not make our communities safer.” She also questioned longer-term costs of the donated item, such as extended warranties and training.
“How does accepting this donation make our city safer, and how is it fiscally responsible?” she asked.
Soto-Martinez added, “At the heart of these questions is, does the community trust the LAPD? And I think the answer is no.”
Other council members, however, defended the donation as adding a tool that would assist officers engaged in life-threatening situations.
Councilman John Lee noted that the ground-based robot is nimble and can perform tasks such as opening doors and accessing areas that aerial drones cannot, providing a valuable tool in cases such as a barricade situation or other standoff.
“This has the ability to save lives,” Lee said.
Councilwoman Traci Park said she would never support something that “violates our constitutional rights” or puts the city on a path to a “dystopian” or “Orwellian” future.”
“That’s not what we are talking about Wednesday,” Park said.
She said accepting the donation “will enhance safety for law enforcement and Angelenos by providing police officers with very much needed situational awareness technology in extremely high-risk situations.”
After listening to nearly three hours of debate, Council President Paul Krekorian called for a 60-day delay in the vote, saying it would provide more time for council members to become more aware of the deployment policies for the device, and possibly to impose some conditions on accepting the donation, such as receiving assurances about how and when the robot would be used.