New Yorkers recently witnessed the NYPD’s latest recruit, a robotic canine named Digidog, patrolling Harlem streets. This high-tech tool was funded not through the standard budgeting process but via the federal Equitable Sharing Program, which provides local police departments with money and assets seized during criminal investigations. This method of funding bypasses the oversight and voting process of the New York City Council.

The Equitable Sharing Program has been a significant source of funding for law enforcement since the Reagan era. It has enabled the purchase of advanced policing tools, raising concerns about privacy, public safety, and potential biases in technology. Albert Fox Cahn, from the Surveillance Technology Oversight Project, expressed concerns about the vast amounts of data being collected and the potential misuse of AI models to determine threats.

The NYPD’s recent acquisition of Digidogs is part of Mayor Eric Adams’ initiative to integrate high-tech tools into policing. Adams has also introduced other technologies, such as a robot patrolling Times Square and a tracking device to monitor fleeing cars. While some experts praise these advancements for their potential to increase efficiency and accuracy in law enforcement, privacy advocates warn of the ethical implications, especially with technologies like facial recognition, which has shown biases against certain racial groups.

The funding for these technologies, particularly through asset forfeitures, is under scrutiny. Cases like Cristal Starling’s, where money was seized without any proven wrongdoing, highlight the potential for abuse. Critics argue that only elected officials should manage and allocate funds, and there’s a push to reform the asset forfeiture process to ensure it’s more transparent and just.

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