Now That We've Entered The Age Of Robocop, How About Ones That Detain, Rather Than Kill?

from the robocop dept

Well, the era of robocop has begun. As you’ve probably heard already, in order to get the sniper in Dallas who shot and killed a whole bunch of police, the Dallas police apparently sent in a bomb robot to detonate a bomb. Normally that robot is designed to save people from bombs, but in this case the police decided to use it to deliver a bomb and blow up the guy, Micah Xavier Johnson, accused of doing the shooting. The city apparently recently got 3 Remotec robots for its bomb squad:

Each one apparently costs about $200k. In asking around, it appears that those who are familiar with bomb robots can’t find any examples of police using them in this way in the past. Though, of course, people have certainly raised the theoretical question of using remote automated systems, whether robots or drones, to take down killers who are on the loose.

The Dallas Police have a long history of engaging in community policing designed to de-escalate situations, rather than encourage antagonism between police and the community, have been handling all of this with astounding restraint, frankly. Many other police departments would be lashing out, and yet the Dallas Police Dept, while obviously grieving for a horrible situation, appear to be handling this tragic situation professionally. And it appears that they did everything they could in a reasonable manner. They first tried to negotiate with Johnson, but after that failed and they feared more lives would be lost, they went with the robot + bomb option. And, obviously, considering he had already shot many police officers, I don’t think anyone would question the police justification if they had shot Johnson.

But, still, at the very least, the whole situation raises a lot of questions about the legality of police using a bomb offensively to blow someone up. And, it raises some serious questions about how other police departments might use this kind of technology in the future. The situation here appears to be one where people reasonably concluded that this was the most effective way to stop further bloodshed. And this is a police department with a strong track record of reasonable behavior. But what about other police departments where they don’t have that kind of history? What are the protocols for sending in a robot or drone to kill someone? Are there any rules at all?

Furthermore, it actually makes you wonder, why isn’t there a focus on using robots to de-escalate these situations? What if, instead of buying military surplus bomb robots, there were robots being designed to disarm a shooter, or detain him in a manner that would make it easier for the police to capture him alive? Why should the focus of remote robotic devices be to kill him? This isn’t faulting the Dallas Police Department for its actions last night. But, rather, if we’re going to enter the age of robocop, shouldn’t we be looking for ways to use such robotic devices in a manner that would help capture suspects alive, rather than dead?

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Comments on “Now That We've Entered The Age Of Robocop, How About Ones That Detain, Rather Than Kill?”

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Anonymous Coward says:

Extrajudicial Killing

The police do this when they feel justified in removing all of the rights of the accused. In America we are supposed to be innocent until proven guilty, even when they are obviously guilty. I wanted to see how this court case would end up. Now we only get to see the results of the whitewash that will be the investigation into the death. Yes I think the guy deserved to die, but not at the hands of the police. Only after he was found guilty in a court of law.

Pixelation says:

Re: Extrajudicial Killing

“The police do this when they feel justified in removing all of the rights of the accused.”

There are times when the police need to end someone. This guy removed his own rights.

How many more people should they have let this guy kill so they could take him alive?

orbitalinsertion (profile) says:

Re: Re: Extrajudicial Killing

The point is, they could have blown up anyone and said he’s the guy. Whether they think he was, or not. Until they release evidence otherwise, people will wonder. Their story changed multiple times, and in good faith i will simply assume they were idiotic assumptions, the same kind police make every day about a threat or non-threat that ends up with them killing someone. 1)Multiple 2)snipers 3)triangulating on police 4) from an elevated position. because of course. Even their bomb story changed several times. They also failed to take down their suspect! Tweet long after the one man showed up at the police station and the other guy was blown up with a rather expensive piece of kit. Yeah, it ain’t causing that dude any problems.

So yeah, don’t be surprised when people question this stuff when they use a rather unique method to really really kill a trapped suspect / shooter, and the first person this ever happens to is of course Black, regardless of the reputation and intent of the Dallas police. All too often, the cries of “Are you going to let him keep doing X”, or “You can’t let him get away with this”, end up with the wrong people dead or in prison.

I really hope they are forthcoming with evidence, or… the mere appearance of impropriety, and all.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re: Extrajudicial Killing

This is exactly what happens when police take the law into their own hands. Examples would include the Christopher Dorner episode. They were so intent on killing him that they attacked multiple innocent civilians and with a shoot first, verify later attitude. Their response made me believe his claims instead of dismissing them as I normally would have.
They want special protection and exemptions yet act like a the gangs that they are supposed to be protecting us from instead. This whole thing started with police blatantly and systematically targeting black people, killing them with impunity and getting away with it for decades. The departments are finding nothing wrong with killing people when the cop claims to be such a afraid of some potential threat. Meanwhile civilians are literally living with groups of armed people robbing them of life liberty and property on a daily basis. We are told its for our own good, but it really doesn’t feel like that when things like this happen and justice is preempted by the very people who are supposed to be protecting it.

Bergman (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:2 Extrajudicial Killing

Two things to consider — Citizen’s Arrest is a thing that exists in statutes in Texas and police have less freedom to act than a private citizen does when it comes to use of force, because police are bound by the Constitution in ways private citizens are not.

If it is a lawful act for police to kill a man in cold blood because waiting for him to drop from thirst, hunger or exhaustion is too hard and making an arrest is too inconvenient, what does that say for citizen’s arrests?

See a crime being committed, decided a citizen’s arrest is too much work, draw gun and open fire? If what the police just did in Dallas wasn’t murder, then neither would this be murder!

Further, police are not exempt from arrest, either by police or private citizens. If the system rules the assassination by bombing a lawful, justified act then they will have also made it legal to shoot a cop if you see him committing an arrestable offense!

pcdec says:

Re: Re: Re:2 Extrajudicial Killing

The Dorner thing is the perfect example of law enforcement’s mentality. They are pussies AND bullies. On a normal day they don’t know the laws that well and they also break some and violate people’s rights. In a tense situation they get scared and choose to ignore more laws and rights. In the really bad situations almost anything goes no matter the legality. They know 99.9% of the time their qualified immunity will protect them. They leave us to pay the huge settlements for their mistakes. And when a cop is killed…I think they’d kill their own child if they were in the wrong place at the wrong time, didn’t fit the description, were driving the wrong make/model/color vehicle, and had their hands up. Stay the fuck away from cops when their searching for a cop killer. I guess we all need bomb shelters now to protect ourselves from the police.

“I saw him run into that house” says officer 1
“He has a gun we’re not going in there…lets get the bomb robot.” says officer 2

oops wrong house…but hey later they found a roach in the rubble so it’s all good.

Uriel-238 (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:2 Extrajudicial Killing

As things are going, people will soon be shooting at law enforcement to regain freedom, and the more people shooting at them, the fewer resources they have for reprisal and manhunts.

Pixelation we’ve been watching across years how the police regard ordinary civilians as the enemy. You are a suspect, yourself, as soon as they need one. And if they decide you need to be neutralized they’ll find a crime by which to imprison you, if they don’t feel inclined to shoot you first.

The police resort to force not because they have to, but possibly because they enjoy discharging their strength. They certainly have been focusing less on de-escalating situations through negotiation and in fact provoking a response that allows them to justify murder.

Both Sterling and Castile show that we’ve lost our freedom already. We’re already prisoners in occupied America, and the law enforcement agents sworn to protect and serve us instead serve their plutonic masters.

Regardless, the justification for killing someone is rendered moot once you no longer are risking human life and limb. Once they sent a robot in, they had plenty of options that weren’t explosive.

David says:

Re: Re: Extrajudicial Killing

Sounds like the job description of police men to me. Assassination would be more in the department of special agents and/or the military.

This was beyond self-defense and beyond addressing an immediate threat to others. “Go and kill the bastard.” is not an option available to police. They don’t get to decide over life and death.

John Fenderson (profile) says:

Re: Re: Extrajudicial Killing

I dunno. Making the (never correct) assumption that the news reports are reasonably complete and correct, then it’s pretty easy to argue that lethal force was not necessary, or at least not at that time. All that was needed was to evacuate the area that he could shoot into and wait. Sooner or later, he would have to either emerge or kill himself.

Bergman (profile) says:

Re: Re: Extrajudicial Killing

Actually it’s very easy to argue that this was not one of those times.

Police are authorized to use lethal force when it is necessary to defend their lives or those of another. They are not authorized to kill anyone they feel like, nor are they authorized to kill someone because attempting to make an arrest is too inconvenient.

It’s worth noting that police have the right to defend themselves because EVERYONE has that right, not because they are police. If some who is not a cop were to see a crime being committed, think about making a citizen’s arrest, decide it would be too much trouble and just pulled out a gun and killed the guy instead, would it be justified? Or would it be ruled not to be a case of self defense, and lead to murder charges?

They had the guy cornered, he was not going anywhere. They could have waited him out since they have food and water and officers on the next shift to relieve them, and the guy they had cornered did not. They could have simply stood there and waited for him to fall over from exhaustion, thirst or hunger. Instead they committed premeditated murder in cold blood because waiting him out or arresting him was just too inconvenient.

Anonymous Coward says:

The future of policing.
(Read this in the voice of ED-209)
You have 10 seconds to comply.
You have 9 seconds to comply.
You have 8 seconds to comply.
You have 7 seconds to comply.
You have 6 seconds to comply.
You have 5 seconds to comply.
You have 4 seconds to comply.
You have 3 seconds to comply.
You have 2 seconds to comply.
You have 1 seconds to comply.
*Insert Explosion Here*

“Well that shoplifter wont be stealing any bread now.”
*Building collapses*

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Boom

let’s consider this:
– you have a nail sticking out of a wood plank
– you are trained and told to use heavy power tools at every opportunity.

you have available:
a) a hammer
b) a supper expensive all-options-included power hammer

do you:
a) use the hammer
b) use the all-options-included power hammer.

budget is not a factor… the suckers^H^H^H^H^H taxpayers will cover the costs anyway.

With police militarization these days they will go for option B at every opportunity.

David says:

Re: Boom

It would have put other lives at some risk, particularly police officer lives. The police officers decided that the life of the attacker was worth so much less than any potential harm they could be seeing that using a bomb for an extrajudicial killing of a cornered person would be appropriate.

In short, they made a value decision about the value of an individual’s life and decided they’d be better off with him dead.

Which is not how a justice system is supposed to work.

Anonymous Anonymous Coward (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:4 Boom

If the design purpose of my suggestion was to incapacitate a suspect, rather than kill, then the gasses would not be of such concentrations that death would be a result. Besides, if a canister is releasing gas in the open air, then it becomes less concentrated. If the gas is only (and I am not an anesthesiologist or a dentist) say 5% or whatever is normal, to start with, then once released it will become something less. If the gas is 100% before release, then the design intent might not have been accomplished or missed entirely.

My point was that tear gas might not be the correct gas for such situations and that there might be a more effective gas for rendering someone safe and capturable, as apposed to explosives. The other side of course is how to apply constraints so that the police are not using such a weapon on jaywalkers or for other less than appropriate reasons. They don’t, for example, use their guns appropriately all the time.

Nimas says:

Robots to De-Escalate

Honestly the reason why we don’t currently have robots capable of de-escalating situations would most likely be because that would be *significantly* harder then the robot they used.

Robots designed to deal with bomb don’t generally have to worry about dealing with quick moving targets that move in variable patterns.

Not to say that’s not a worthy goal and we should maybe look to that in the future, but it will be more expensive and difficult.

Anonymous Coward says:

“They first tried to negotiate with Johnson, but after that failed and they feared more lives would be lost, they went with the robot + bomb option.”

That’s why the standard practice is to lob stun grenades right before the swat team storms in. The targeted person will be too blinded and disoriented to properly fight back and pose any further threat. Another way would be to smoke him out with tear gas. All police forces possess, practice with, and regularly deploy these and many other less-lethal options that are highly effective at disabling barricaded shooters. If they could put a remote controlled bomb on a robot, they could just as easily have put tear gas on it.

“And, obviously, considering he had already shot many police officers, I don’t think anyone would question the police justification if they had shot Johnson.”

Everyone SHOULD question the justification of police assassinating a suspect rather than trying their best to capture him alive. Remember, police are in theory only supposed to use lethal force in self defense. That means that while it’s OK to shoot to kill when confronted, when an armed combatant gets hit, drops his gun and falls to the ground motionless, it’s not acceptable to keep shooting his lifeless body until the last person’s gun runs out of ammunition.

But that’s the standard American police practice, to use the maximum force on hand, rather than the minimum force required to accomplish the task. Police are supposed to capture people, even those who are armed and resisting arrest, and bring them back alive to stand trial, not form a hunting party with killing as their chief objective. Police today have many more less-lethal options than they had in the era of Bonnie and Clyde, yet police mentality has apparently become increasingly more aggresive and more lethal since then.

Robocop’s ED-209 was supposed to represent a dystopian black comedy, not a future how-to guide.

David says:

That's great

So if I try stopping a remote-controlled car bomb from driving into a crowd, I may now be guilty of interfering with police work?

Or if I want to stage a hostage killing situation, I don’t even need to bring my own explosives any more?

Or even myself? Just hack into some car bomb robot’s controls?

America is really the land of unlimited stupidity. What are SWAT teams even for if they aren’t willing to risk scratching their body armor? Only for killing unarmed citizens and babies?

How about giving the police nerve gas and biological weapons? I am sure they’ll find good use for it.

David says:

Re: Re: Re: Re:

They aren’t supposed to be better than the criminals. The only criminal enterprise where you are not accepted with too high IQ test ratings is the police.

And the general victim-blaming canon goes like “don’t be uppity, do everything they say, don’t object, don’t try to make eye contact or provoke, follow orders and try getting a lawyer after you escaped hopefully unscathed” and basically whatever else applies when dealing with trigger-happy sociopathic gang leaders, muggers and rapists.

So how are policemen supposd to be better than the criminals that they take in? This is not the narrative you hear in the U.S.

Anonymous Coward says:

this reminds a bit of the bombing of japan that ended the second ww. after the fact we can all debate the morality of the actions, but in the heat of a situation, a sure solution would be attractive to us all if we were charged to stop the killing.

that said, i dread to see where this goes with the runaway police departments all over this country that fester like open sores.

we are a sick society, and i don’t see where the hope to get better might come from.

Anon says:

I don't approve, but...

Normally, police should work out a hostage situation. HOWEVER… this person demonstrated he was not interested in negotiating; he had been given every opportunity to surrender, or name terms, or whatever. he was holed up with possibly large amounts of ammunition. It is not in the interest of public safety to leave a person unwilling to negotiate and in a position to do further damage or injury, and you can’t really shut down a large area of downtown for a week until the guy is definitely dead of thirst. Plus, who knows what he might do suicidally when he knows the end is near. De we know what sort of view he had should he want to take sniper shots at people hundreds of yards away? Would they have had to shut down most of the downtown?

This wasn’t a knee-jerk revenge. This was solving a problem when the other party was being completely unresponsive and had passed on all other options. He wanted suicide by cop and he got it, because they had no other reasonable choices.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: I don't approve, but...

How exactly do you know he was given a chance to surrender? From the outside, it looked like the police decided to kill him, preventing any potential trial while he was on the phone negotiating… The kind of thing you expect from the bad guys in a movie. No due process, no right to a fair trial before he is killed. Just retribution for their perceived enemy. That is not how America was set up, but that is how Police states work.

spankydoesdallas (profile) says:

A Bomb? Really!

My questions is: Where does this local law enforcement agency get the bomb? Is it a bomb that is “military-grade”, is it a bomb another government agency supplied the law enforcement agency, or is it a spur of the moment “grenade” of sorts made especially for the bombing “occasion”? What legitimate purpose does a local law enforcement agency employ a bomb to kill accused offenders and who makes that decision? What federal and/or state statute or city policy allows it’s local law enforcement arm to employ bombs to negate the life of an accused offender? Is ATF (state and federal) aware that local law enforcement is acquiring, storing and distributing bombs to kill offenders? Maybe this incident indicates a need for more investigative reporting on the fact that local law enforcement in your own community may possess and deploy bombs to mangle and destroy accused offenders based on local spur-of-the-moment thinking and decision making. Scary. The “New America”.

Uriel-238 (profile) says:

Re: A Bomb? Really!

Well, it sounds like they just used a wad of C4 (military grade plastique) that is used for shaping charges (breaching hard surfaces, such as concrete walls). C2 is the police version, so it’s curious how they ended up with C4.

Otherwise, the bomb would be described as a remote-detonated charge, probably radio-controlled.

Almach says:

Re: Re: A Bomb? Really!

C2 is the police version, so it’s curious how they ended up with C4.

C4 has basically replaced the previous C1, C2 and C3 compounds for all purposes. The police keep a stock of it on-hand for various purposes, such as breaching structures and blowing up other bombs. It’s also handy for blowing up recalcitrant suspects.

Gorgonea says:

And, obviously, considering he had already shot many police officers, I don’t think anyone would question the police justification if they had shot Johnson.

Let’s turn that around just a little bit.

“And, obviously, considering that many black men had already been shot by police officers, I don’t think anyone would question his justification for shooting them.”

Justification is something that can be in the eye of the justifier.

Uriel-238 (profile) says:

Re: The legitimacy of a police force is their adherence to defined policy.

When a police officer has the authority to attack whoever he wants (rather than only within a narrowly constrained set of circumstances according to law), then he becomes another outlaw bandit who just happens to be sponsored by the state, with no legitimacy other than that of force, and with the moral high-ground of an ordinary gangster.

When we are policed not by law but by the whims of state officers, then we are no longer a nation of laws.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re:

And, obviously, considering he had already shot many police officers, I don’t think anyone would question the police justification if they had shot Johnson.

Let’s turn that around just a little bit.

“And, obviously, considering that many black men had already been shot by police officers, I don’t think anyone would question his justification for shooting them.”

Justification is something that can be in the eye of the justifier.

Just questioning the justifier will get you killed nowadays . And you wonder why they want take your guns away ???
Wake up sheeple , a disarmed nation is a dictatorship

Anonymous Coward says:

Amazing how we have no protest singers along the lines of Pete Seeger to rally around nowadays .
Seems they are all tied to the big tit of big media and are afraid to speak the truth to the people .
Endless war at home and abroad and most people have their head so far shoved up their ass they shit in their own mouths .

JBDragon (profile) says:

Re: Dont break the law if you dont wanna get blowed up

More like don’t shoot and kill a bunch of police officers!!! I get there are bad police, must most in general are good people wanting to help the community. The only safe way to end it was blowing him up remotely. He forfeited his life shooting a killing a bunch of police. We sure don’t need a expensive court case for this, let alone more police dying trying to catch him alive. It’s not worth it. He was clearly guilty!!!

That One Guy (profile) says:

Re: Re: Dont break the law if you dont wanna get blowed up

I’m going to hope that was a poe, as otherwise that argument is all sorts of horrifying.

‘Clearly guilty’ or even ‘actually guilty’ is not a ‘kill on sight’ offense, and baring a situation of literal life or death, ‘this person dies right now or someone else does’ situation (of which this case wouldn’t qualify, as if they had time to rig up a remote controlled bomb they had time for other options)everyone deserves a trial before punishment is handed out, otherwise laws become entirely optional and at the discretion of whoever happens to be there at the time.

‘Justice’ is replaced with ‘lynch mob’ basically, so long as someone with a badge or even someone without has the means to hand out the ‘sentence’ and the person is ‘clearly guilty’, whether they actually are or not.

Uriel-238 (profile) says:

Re: "Dont break the law if you dont wanna get blowed up"

Except that you’re breaking the law every day without even knowing it.

And you don’t have to break the law, yourself, just be at the wrong place at the wrong time and look like a suspect. The courts are already primed to assure a conviction.

And as in the cases of Sterling and Castile, they hadn’t really done anything wrong, and got themselves murdered by the police.

So no, staying on the right side of the (extensive, complex, unintelligible) law does not assure one’s safety from our officers meant to enforce it.

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