NYPD robotic dog prompts New York Rep. Torres to draft legislation

Bronx

THE BRONX — The NYPD’s recent use of a robotic dog has prompted elected officials to criticize the police department’s surveillance equipment, while police maintained the department has done nothing wrong.

“The time has come for the federal government to step in,” Rep. Ritchie Torres, a Democrat, said Saturday.

The representative from the Bronx announced legislation that would require police departments receiving federal money to report use of surveillance technology to the Department of Homeland Security and Congress.

“The NYPD refuses to give elected officials the information we need to manage the impact of surveillance technology on our most fundamental freedoms,” Torres said.

The NYPD calls it Digidog. It was developed by the robotics company Boston Dynamics. It costs at least $74,000 and it has lights, a camera and a two-way communication system.

Albert Fox Cahn of the Surveillance Oversight Technology Project spoke about its potential.

“This is digital stop and frisk, nothing less,” he said. “And when we look at Digidog, this dystopian surveillance tool, brought into New Yorkers houses, it hasn’t done anything to keep us safe.”

Local officials have complained the acquisition of the robot police pup violated the POST Act.

The Public Oversight of Surveillance Technology Act pass in 2020 as part of New York City police reform. It required the NYPD to list surveillance tools and uses.

“We believe in the work of law enforcement across this country and certainly the NYPD. But we also believe that New Yorkers have a fundamental right to understand what types of surveillance and technology that the NYPD is using,” Councilmember Vanessa Gibson said.

The police department said critics are barking up the wrong tree. 

“Because the robot is being tested for use in hostage, terrorism bomb and hazmat situations, it was properly classified as a confidential expenditure,” the NYPD said in a statement to PIX11 News. “The use of the robot was properly reported for public disclosure under the POST Act and is listed on the public facing website.”

The NYPD said Digidog is being leased. It will soon be returned and then evaluated for effectiveness.

The police department called it “comical” that it’s considered surveillance, noting it’s tough to hide.

“The robotic dog is the tip of a much deeper iceberg,” Torres said.

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