Legal experts and ethicists raised the alarm after Dallas Police Chief David Brown informed the public that an armed robot was used to kill the Dallas gunman after negotiations failed. This is believed to be the first use of a lethal robot in American policing and is being hailed as ethicists as proof that the militarization of American policing has gone too far.
Popular Science reports that the robot used to kill the Dallas police shooting gunman was a bomb disposal robot, reportedly a Northrop Grumman Remotec Andros F6A or F6B model. Writer Dave Gershgorn notes that this is the first instance that an American police force has repurposed a robot to produce lethal force against an American citizen. It was noted that the robot is typically used to prevent death by disarming potential explosive devices in an area. However, the Dallas Police Department repurposed the robot for the specific purpose of killing the suspect.
“Repurposing a robot that was created to prevent death by explosion clearly contrasts with the way these machines are normally used. Bomb disposal robots are routinely used to minimize the potential of harm to officers and civilians when disarming or clearing potential explosives from an area. They are often equipped with their own explosive charges and other tools, not to kill, but detonate other potential bombs in the area.”
Police Chief Brown defended the use of the robot by noting during a press conference that the officers saw “no other option” than to use the bomb to kill the suspect.
“We saw no other option but to use our bomb robot and place a device on its extension for it to detonate where the suspect was…other options would have exposed our officers to great danger. The suspect is deceased as a result of detonating the bomb.”
Professor of Law at University of California Davis Elizabeth Joh was quick to point out the use of the lethal robot by the American police force, noting it was a first-of-its-kind.
Someone correct me if I’m wrong, but have we seen the first use of a lethal robot in American policing?
— Elizabeth Joh (@elizabeth_joh) July 8, 2016
The professor also noted her concern for the use of the killer police robots, claiming that robots distance the officers from the violence and lower their threshold for deciding to kill a suspect.
This. It may not apply to Dallas in particular, but this is risk of police robots armed with weapons. https://t.co/PwX08Tpwqu
— Elizabeth Joh (@elizabeth_joh) July 8, 2016
Joh’s concerns were echoed by Marjorie Cohn, professor emerita at the Thomas Jefferson School of Law. Cohn spoke to Common Dreams about the use of the lethal robot, claiming that it is a step in the wrong direction regarding the militarization of American law enforcement officers. Cohn claims that officers should be interacting in more humane ways with citizens and that lethal robots were designed for military use, not use on the American public.
“The fact that the police have a weapon like this, and other weapons like drones and tanks, is an example of the militarization of the police and law enforcement—and goes in the wrong direction. We should see the police using humane techniques, interacting on a more humane level with the community, and although certainly the police officers did not deserve to die, this is an indication of something much deeper in the society, and that’s the racism that permeates the police departments across the country. It’s a real tragedy.”
Cohn also voiced concerns over the necessity of killing the gunman with the bomb as he did not pose an immediate threat to police as he was holed up in a parking garage at the time of the bomb detonation. Cohn says that police should have waited out the gunman until he exited the building and brought him in for trial.
“Police cannot use deadly force unless there’s an imminent threat of death or great bodily injury to them or other people. If the suspect was holed up in a parking garage and there was nobody in immediate danger from him, the police could have waited him out. They should have arrested him and brought him to trial.”
In an interview with The Atlantic, Seth Stoughton, a former police officer and assistant professor of law at the University of South Carolina, told reporters that this is the first instance he is aware of in which a police department used a robot to deliver lethal force. He says the use is unprecedented and will likely raise new issues going forward.
“This is sort of a new horizon for police technology. Robots have been around for a while, but using them to deliver lethal force raises some new issues.”
Though this is the first case of a police department using a bomb-detonating robot to kill, it has been done in the military.
Yes, this is 1st use of robot in this way in policing. Marcbot has been ad hoc used this way by troops in Iraq. https://t.co/FfrsgLS2x1
— Peter W. Singer (@peterwsinger) July 8, 2016
Author Peter Singer notes that the troops in Iraq have repurposed their robots in the past to deliver lethal force, but it was not what the robot was designed to do in the American policing field. Therefore, many are noting that the “military” use of the robot on American soil against a suspect is concerning and proof of the increased militarization of the American police force.
What do you think about the Dallas Police Department using a bomb-detonating robot to kill the Dallas police shooting suspect? Was it a slippery slope of police militarization or was it necessary? Let us know your thoughts in the comments section below.
[Image by John Bazemore/AP Photo]