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?

Filed Under: bomb robot, dallas police, robocop


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  1. identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 8 Jul 2016 @ 10:30pm

    "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.

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