The LAPD Wants Robot Dogs. How Did We Get Here?

Like other surveillance tools before them, quadrupedal robots are being pushed by Los Angeles’ well-funded police lobbyists.
A quadrupedal robot with blue and yellow police markings stands in front of a blue background.
picture alliance / Getty Images

Matyos Kidane and Shakeer Rahman are organizers with the Stop LAPD Spying Coalition, a community group working to abolish police surveillance in Los Angeles.

The Los Angeles Police Department (LAPD) has been pushing a plan to unleash dog-like military robots in our communities, and it’s highlighting the power of well-funded police lobbyists to purchase influence in local governments. 


This week, members of Los Angeles City Council’s Public Safety Committee voted in favor of LAPD’s acquisition of military robots, ignoring loud and unified community opposition. The results of the committee’s vote were not surprising — four of its five members are top recipients of campaign donations from political groups representing LAPD officers,  demonstrating how much power and influence the LAPD’s private lobbying bodies have come to wield over city politics. 

The LAPD has long been one of the most well-resourced police forces in the country. With an annual budget of over $3.2 billion, LAPD counts on being able to purchase whatever technology and toys police desire. Over the years, this spending has made LAPD a pioneer in experimenting with the use of helicopter fleets, unmanned drones, predictive surveillance, public relations units, facial recognition technology, and AI systems. 

Quadrupedal robots are no exception. In the past, these semi-autonomous bots have had only brief tours of duty with police forces across the US. In Honolulu, Hawaii, police deployed the bots at homeless encampments during the height of the COVID-19 pandemic. The NYPD was also seen using a bot named “Digidog” to patrol public housing projects, before local residents pressured the city to send it back. While robot-maker Boston Dynamics has promised that it wouldn’t allow its bots to harm human beings, the San Francisco city council voted last year that it’s A-okay for police to use robots to kill.


LAPD’s efforts to acquire these robots shows the power of two police-controlled private war chests that supplement LAPD’s annual budget. The first war chest lies with the Los Angeles Police Foundation (LAPF), which fundraises from real estate developers, private corporations, and wealthy philanthropists to “donate” new weaponry to police. These donations inevitably become permanent line items in LAPD’s budget. And LAPD brass including Chief Michel Moore work closely with LAPF leadership to identify fundraising needs and make personal pitches to donors.

LAPF is the organization that arranged to buy LAPD a dog-like military robot at a cost of nearly $280,000. If the past is precedent, the goal here is to normalize and ingrain the technology so that taxpayers start footing the bill down the line. This is what happened when LAPF funded a “pilot” of LAPD body-camera surveillance, funded LAPD’s implementation of Palantir data processing systems, funded the hiring of controversial academics from NYU School of Law’s Policing Project to write new technology policies, and paid to set up the first test sites of the Community Safety Partnerships surveillance program. All those privately funded experiments have since become taxpayer liabilities.

Alongside LAPF, LAPD’s other major private war chest lies in is the Los Angeles Police Protective League (LAPPL), a lobbying group that harvests the salaries of LAPD officers to fund electoral campaigns.  According to the LA Times, over the past two years, LAPPL spent over a million dollars on four candidates who now all sit on City Council’s Public Safety Committee. The largest share, nearly $500,000, went to Traci Park in her race to replace Mike Bonin, who was one of the City Council’s most vocal opponents of police spending in recent years. The group also spent $116,000 in support of Tim McOsker, a former LAPPL lobbyist, along with over $400,000 to support the campaigns of Monica Rodriguez and John Lee. 


LAPPL launched this latest political push in response to the 2020 uprisings, when the police killings of George Floyd, Brianna Taylor, and others provoked millions of people to take to the streets demanding cuts to police spending. LAPD officers brutally cracked down on these crowds, arresting over 4,000. And more quietly, they began bankrolling an effort to shore up their power in the City Council. 

Their goals were not a secret. As public demands to cut LAPD spending grew louder–according to a survey released by the LMU Center for Study of Los Angeles last fall, over 70 percent of adults in Los Angeles support reallocating parts of LAPD’s budget to other city services–LAPPL sought “to raise at least $10 million to fight the cutbacks and support [its] favored candidates in 2022,” according to the Los Angeles Times. To fund this push, LAPPL asked over 9,800 officers “to donate $22 per paycheck for the next 48 weeks to help the union support its allies.”

The funds available to LAPPL from those paychecks are enormous: nearly half the city’s payroll spending goes to police, with over a thousand LAPD officers paid upwards of $200,000 in salary and benefits in 2022. The city’s five highest paid cops were alone paid over $1.97 million last year. A sizable share of those yearly billions go to LAPPL’s coffers, helping marshal political support for even more police spending. LAPPL also received significant contributions from large real estate developers. In all, the group was the largest single campaign spender in last year’s city elections. 

LAPPL’s political push yielded a major payoff this week in one of the Public Safety Committee’s first votes of the year, the question of whether to approve LAPD’s acquisition of the robot dog. Forty callers dialed in to address the issue before public comment was abruptly ended, with dozens more waiting on the line. All but one of the callers vigorously condemned the proposal, warning about the grave threat to the city’s Black and brown communities. Callers warned that the robots could be outfitted with lethal munitions, following a pattern of “mission creep” that we saw with LAPD’s use of drones, body cams, and myriad other technologies. Many also pointed out that identical dog-like robots were restricted in a vote by San Francisco’s Board of Supervisors and rejected outright by the New York Police Department. 

Here in Los Angeles, community opposition fell on deaf ears. This is what we mean when we say Los Angeles is a police state. What else do you call a city that spends half its annual budget on police, up over 50% during the past decade, ruled by a City Council whose Public Safety Committee is staffed by officials handpicked by the police lobby? 

The robot dog isn’t the only four-legged machine bought to do LAPD’s bidding. That description also applies to the quartet of politicians who LAPD’s officer union have installed in the City Council’s Public Safety Committee. Unless City Council President Paul Krekorian, himself a regular recipient of LAPPL donations, or his colleagues step up to end these conflicts of interest, it will take fierce and relentless pressure to topple these machines.