San Francisco’s Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (SPCA), an animal advocacy group, faces scrutiny for renting a security robot to shoo away homeless people near its premises.
SPCA media specialist Krista Maloney said her organization just wants to police the sidewalks around its offices and deter homeless people from setting up any type of encampment in the area. The SPCA claims its sidewalk sweeping “K-9” has provided a month with fewer car break-ins and homeless people around, so animal advocates have been able to move about safely in the trendy Mission neighborhood.
“We weren’t able to use the sidewalks at all when there’s needles and tents and bikes, so from a walking standpoint I find the robot much easier to navigate than an encampment,” SPCA president Jennifer Scarlett told the San Francisco Business Times.
Some homeless people threw a tarp over the robot and knocked over their 5-foot, 400-pound nemesis. Once down, they painted barbecue sauce over the robot’s sensors.
Now the SPCA is calling off its robot. It received a Dec. 1 email from the San Francisco Department of Public Works prohibiting use of public right-of-way without proper approval. The fine is $1,000 per day.
The battle for the sidewalk may only intensify: The city’s Board of Supervisors must make decisions about limits on all kinds of robots that roam city sidewalks—whether for delivery of food and goods or to patrol.
Local activist Fran Taylor expressed her outrage over a robot taking over the public space. She said the robot and its cameras seemed “like an obvious attack on the very people in San Francisco who are already having such a hard time surviving in this expensive city.” —R.H.