Hawaii police spent Covid relief funds on a robotic dog to patrol homeless camp

Police in Hawaii used more than $150,000 (£108,000) of Covid-19 relief funds to buy a robotic dog to take temperatures in a homeless encampment.

Officials said the dog helped limit overtime spending and reduce interactions between staff and residents of the tent city in Honolulu.

But locals struggling to make ends meet called the purchase ‘absolutely ridiculous.’

First reported by local media in January, the unusual purchase came to international attention when it was covered by Vice earlier this week.

The Honolulu Police Department said they bought the modified ‘Spot’ robot from Boston Dynamics as ‘more than a ‘thermometer.”

Deputy chief John McCarthy told the Honolulu Civil Beat the robot would ‘help to mitigate the spread of Covid-19 through touchless field screening and interaction with homeless individuals in self-quarantine.’

The dogs, he said, could perform continual thermal scans, which could help spot unwell residents.

He added: ‘Oftentimes, [people in the encampment] will request medical attention when exhibiting possible symptoms of Covid-19.

‘In an effort to reduce possible exposure, the Spot robot will provide telemedicine to those individuals and can deliver medical supplies and food.’

But local mother of two Katrina Langford said: ‘It sounds absolutely ridiculous,

‘I could think of a lot of better things to do with that money. It seems like people are taking temperatures everywhere and they don’t need robots to do it.’

For context, more than 100 people could be housed in budget Honolulu hotels for a month for the same amount of money, according to current online prices.

Covid-19 relief funding

Police used money Covid-19 relief funds from the US ‘CARES Act’ to purchase the robot — money the US Treasury says is for ‘necessary expenditures incurred due to the public health emergency.’

Local politician Heidi Tsuneyoshi criticised the amount of money alloted to the department, saying: ‘The bulk of the money should’ve gone to individuals and families who were suffering.’

But McCarthy argued the robot would save cash in the long run, as it would reduce spend on police overtime hours.

The department isn’t alone in its use of the robot dog to combat the pandemic. Singapore officials used a similar device to enforce social distancing in a park last year.

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A spokesperson from Boston Dynamics defended the department’s use of its robot, telling Vice: ‘Spot is not designed or intended to replace a police officer or social worker but rather to augment the work of public safety officials and police departments to reduce risks and increase safety for all people,

‘Spot was under the control of a human operator and used to remove humans from potentially hazardous environments [in Honolulu].’

The four-legged robots came to popular attention when they appeared as human-hunting assassins in a 2017 episode of the Black Mirror series.

Videos of Boston Dynamics’ robots running, dancing and even performing backflips have kept internet users entertained, and slightly terrified, for years.

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