New York’s Times Square is known for many things, but lately, crime has kept it in the headlines. Amid mounting public safety concerns, instead of increasing police presence and giving law enforcement the tools to prevent and fight crime, the New York Police Department (NYPD) spent thousands of tax dollars testing the K5, a high-tech crimefighting robot, which proved to be a ghastly waste of time, city money, and provided a false sense of utility.

The K5 manufacturer, Knightscope, described its product as a “fully autonomous outdoor security robot.” With a “call for help” button and cameras, these robots lack facial recognition and audio recording, making them merely futuristic mobile security cameras. Regardless, Mayor Adams vowed in a post on X, “These devices will serve as an important, innovative deterrent to crime so we can keep NYC the safest big city in America.”

At first glance, robot cops might appear to be a cost-effective investment to combat crime in a city struggling with safety. At an estimated leasing cost averaging $9 per hour, these machines promise to patrol tirelessly. Yet, the true cost of maintaining one paints a different picture entirely. Not mentioned in the K5’s $12,250.00 test price tag, there was the additional unwritten costs of constant escort by two officers to prevent vandalism. During these robot cop test runs, Mayor Adams announced NYC departments should prepare to slash 5% in spending, with an additional 10% possible later on.

The deployment of robot technology in public safety is not unique to NYC. Similar technologies have been tested in cities like Houston, Miami, and Los Angeles. While proponents argue that these advancements can enhance law enforcement capabilities, we cannot ignore the valid concerns about privacy, accountability, and cost.

Mayor Adams reassures that the video collected by the K5 will adhere to existing NYPD guidelines. However, in an era marked by heightened scrutiny of law enforcement practices and growing calls for police reform, the mere presence of surveillance technology on our streets raises important questions about civil liberties and the balance between security and privacy.

Ultimately, the question remains: Do robot cops enhance police response? Or are they merely a high-tech band-aid? The limitations are clear. The concern of vandalism already requires human police chaperones, so these robots provide no better utility than that of updated, expertly placed security cameras and panic buttons. They cannot replace the human touch necessary for effective community policing, nor can they address the systemic issues driving crime in our cities. In addition, they do not warrant police department budget cuts to accommodate them or for police to be taken off the street to protect them.

Embracing new technologies should not come at the expense of fundamental rights or the erosion of police funding. Rather than investing in more robot cop technology, we must invest in holistic approaches to public safety that support existing law enforcement and prioritize prevention, intervention, and community engagement, aspects to policing that only trained humans can provide.