An R2-D2 lookalike will be patrolling the Times Square subway station soon to assist the NYPD with deterring criminals at a rate of $9 an hour.
Mayor Adams unveiled the wheeled robo-cop — which is manufactured by Knightscope and known as the K5 security robot — as part of a new two-month NYPD pilot program on Friday.
“It’s cost effective … $9 an hour. That’s below minimum wage,” Adams said during a press conference at Times Sqaure. “As we deal with very challenging budget restraints, we need to find more cost-efficient ways to bring about safety.”
According to Adams, the city will pay Knightscope $9 for every hour the NYPD has the roving surveillance drone deployed. The company will also pick up the tab for any repairs that are needed, he said.
During the two-month trial period at Times Square, the robot will be accompanied by a human NYPD officer and will be assessed for its effectiveness. It’s equipped with cameras and will be used six hours a day, seven days a week, according to city officials.
The robot will not employ facial recognition technology, according to Adams, who added that the city also won’t allow the robot’s manufacturer Knightscope to own the video footage recorded by the robot.
But critics of the tech almost immediately voiced skepticism over those claims.
“This may be the dumbest drone yet,” said Albert Fox Cahn, executive director of the Surveillance Technology Oversight Project. “There is absolutely no benefit to installing a roving camera in one of the most heavily surveilled places on the planet. We’ve already blanketed Times Square with cameras, and it’s absurd to think another drone will help.”
Fox Cahn also pointed out that while the robot itself may not employ facial recognition technology, “the images from this system can easily be fed into the NYPD’s existing facial recognition system” — a system which has been slammed because its algorithms have exhibited flaws when it comes to identifying subjects who aren’t white.
“I just wish that the mayor would start focus on actually protecting public safety instead of wasting more time and money on surveillance gimmicks,” Fox Cahn said.
During his more than a year in office, Adams has demonstrated a penchant for rolling out new tech. The city used a so-called digidog earlier this year after a building collapse in lower Manhattan and put out new drone use guidelines in July to make it easier to use them for building and infrastructure inspections.
While the mayor touted the robot’s cost-effectiveness, he fumbled when asked about the minimum contractual cost to the city, saying “it’s all negotiable.”
At the time of its initial unveiling in April, city officials said a seven-month trial subscription would run the NYPD $12,250. How much it will cost the city beyond that remains unclear. When asked for detail about the cost, spokespeople for the mayor and NYPD did not immediately respond.
Adams said officers from the NYPD’s Technical Assistance Response Unit would only accompany the robot during the trial phase, but suggested that afterward, the K5 would be on its own.
“The police officers are only there during the trial period,” Adams said, referring to robot’s cop docents. “They’re not going to be there permanently.”
NYPD Chief of Transit Michael Kemper noted at the press conference that part of the rationale behind pairing a cop with the robot is rooted in public relations.
“They’re going to walk alongside it, and a lot of it has to do with transparency and questions and curiousity from the public,” he said. “That’s in large part why we’re assigning a cop to be with it.”
Adams’ announcement comes as the city is bracing for severe fiscal hardship — and as he continues his push to drive down crime statistics.
The mayor has projected that the ongoing migrant crisis will cost taxpayers an additional $12 billion by 2025 and has instituted a series of budget cuts to mitigate that cost.
On crime, he’s had mixed results.
The latest Mayor’s Management Report, which the city released last Friday, showed that during Adams’ first full fiscal year in office, which spans from July 1, 2022 to this past June, the city experienced a 6% jump in major felonies, from 119,313 in fiscal year 2022 to 126,929 in 2023.
But more recent stats have shown improvement. Crime statistics released by the NYPD last week show that compared to last year, crime stats have remained flat overall, but with large decreases in certain categories such as murders, rapes and burglaries.
The one category over that period that’s shown a significant uptick are auto thefts, which have jumped by nearly 19% over the last year.
When asked about how his new unit fits into addressing crime stats, Adams said “we were not trending in the right direction” during his first full fiscal year covered in the management report, but that “we are moving in the right direction” now.
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