NEW YORK — Digidog, the NYPD robot pooch, is back and department leaders promise it’s not the dystopian surveillance nightmare it was made out to be the first time New Yorkers got a look at it.
Two years after the $74,000 robot canine program landed the NYPD in the doghouse with civil rights advocates, Digidog, also known as Spot, got a new leash on life Tuesday as the city announced it was bringing it back.
Police Commissioner Keechant Sewell noted the NYPD’s long history with technology — the first police force to put in place a 911 call system and among the first to use fingerprints and mugshots — said New Yorkers will be kept abreast of how the cyber mutt and two other tech tools that are part of pilot programs will be used.
“We want the public to know that the use of these technologies will be transparent, consistent and always done in collaboration with the people that we serve,” Sewell said.
Mayor Eric Adams, meanwhile, was more critical, noting that the previous administration let objections to Digidog win the day.
“That is not how I operate,” he said. “I operate on whatever is best for the city. Digidog is out of the pound.
“Digidog is now part of the tool kit we are using.”
NYPD critics were not amused.
The Legal Aid Society said there hasn’t been any meaningful dialogue with communities “about whether this is how we want to live.”
“The Legal Aid Society urges the City Council to hold an immediate oversight hearing to further investigate the use of these technologies and to afford all New Yorkers the chance to have their voices heard.”
Council Speaker Adrienne Adams questioned spending money on robots at a time when social service agencies are having their budgets cut.
The Speaker also said the council will investigate whether the NYPD has run afoul of the restrictions in place following the 2020 enactment of the Public Oversight of Surveillance Technology (POST) Act.
Digidog’s use sparked a fierce backlash in 2021, first when it appeared on social media as part of a response to a Bronx home invasion, then when it was used at a Manhattan housing project, with some residents and advocates calling it a symbol of how aggressive police had become in minority neighborhoods. Some said it resembled robots from the TV show “Black Mirror.”
The NYPD insisted the 70-pound robot, which can run 3.5 miles per hour and climb stairs equipped with cameras, lights and a two-way communications system, would improve officer safety because it could be used to scope out dangerous situations, such as one involving a barricaded gunman.
But its fate was sealed when then-Comptroller Scott Stringer said the robot was acquired without properly notifying the city, something the NYPD said it wasn’t required to do because Digidog could be used at scenes involving terrorist bombers, making its lease confidential.
“I think we have better things to worry about,” then-Commissioner Dermot Shea later said in response to the e-canine saga. Less than a month later, the high-tech hound was sent back to its manufacturer, Boston Dynamics.
Sewell Tuesday also announced two new tech tools that will be part of pilot programs.
One, made by Starchase, allows police to fire at a fleeing vehicle with a GPS device that can stick to the license plate or trunk, eliminating the need for a high-speed chase.
The second is a 400-pound robot that looks like something out of “Star Wars” and will patrol Times Square this summer, either on the street or in the subway station. Crime victims, for instance, can make use of the robot, speaking to it, with the message relayed to police in real-time.
StarChase Technology, makers of what it calls “high-speed pursuit alternatives,” says 10,000 tags have been successfully deployed by various law enforcement agencies.
The tags are fired from either a “GPS launcher” that looks like an assault rifle — though its yellow body is a clear indication it is something other than a firearm — and are affixed to the vehicle driven by the suspect.
The robot — a police source likened it to R2D2 — is manufactured by Knightscope, whose website notes the need for “superhuman abilities to fight crime.”
The cost for either pilot was not immediately clear though a police source said the robot would be rented by the hour.
It remains to be seen how the new devices will be received by the public.
Albert Fox Cahn, head of the Surveillance Technology Oversight Project (STOP), said New York needs real safety measures, not ‘Robocop’ knockoffs.
“How many more millions do we have to waste on biased, broken, and downright creepy technology before we realize it won’t work?” Kahn said. “We should be investing in actual human beings, not robots.”
(Daily News staff writer Chris Sommerfeldt contributed to this story.)