Saturday, July 09, 2016

Use of robot in Dallas highlights tactical opportunities, ethical questions for police

Obviously the shooting in Dallas were horrible. There are a lot of stories in that event, here's one of them, for the first time, police used a robot to deliver a bomb to blow up a suspect.

The LA Times writes Use of robot in Dallas highlights tactical opportunities, ethical questions for police "Negotiators had been talking for hours with the hunkered-down killer of five police officers in downtown Dallas when the man suddenly resumed firing with an assault rifle. Fearing additional casualties, the officers deployed a small, remote-controlled robot to carry an explosive device near shooter Micah Xavier Johnson, which they then detonated, killing him."

Holland Michel said police departments have been using robots for years. They were deployed at the World Trade Center after the Sept. 11 attacks. Their popularity increased with the aid of the Pentagon’s surplus program, he said, saying the program has provided police with at least 400 robots nationwide.

Although it is an unusual tactic, police have used robots during armed standoffs before. In April 2011, police in Blountville, Tenn., chased a murder suspect to a double-wide trailer. During the ensuing confrontation, police rolled a bomb squad robot into the trailer and had it detonate a tear gas grenade, according to a police incident report released to the Bristol Herald Courier newspaper. The explosion started a fire and the suspect escaped before turning himself in two days later.

In November 2014, a SWAT team in Albuquerque, N.M., requested “robot assistance” to subdue an armed suspect barricaded inside a motel room. “The Bomb Squad robot was able to deploy chemical munitions into the subject’s motel room, which led to the subject’s surrender," according to the Albuquerque Police Department’s description of the incident.

The Intercept couldn't find any previous use by police of a robot in this way, How the Dallas Police Used an Improvised Killer Robot to Take Down the Gunman.

The Verge wrote Everything we know about the bomb robot used by Dallas police.

Bomb disposal robots, though, have emerged as a flexible tool for law enforcement, particularly SWAT teams. In April, members of the California Highway Patrol used a bomb disposal robot to deliver a pizza to a suspect, effectively ending a standoff. And in 2013, a SWAT team in Albuquerque used their bot to remove the blanket from a suicidal individual barricaded in his room, checking whether or not he was armed. (No weapon was found and a SWAT team took him into custody.)

Outside of the ethical questions facing the Dallas police department (what led them to take the decision to simply kill the suspect rather than try other options to capture them?), this incident raises a number of practical considerations. These include the decreased usefulness of such robots as negotiators. If suspects fear them as potential assassins, why bother to talk to the police at the other end?

I first heard of the use of a robot in this case from Matt Blaze's tweet, "How was the control link to the Dallas bomb robot secured? Stakes go way up when something like this is repurposed as a weapon."

Update: Ars has some more, Dallas deployment of robot bomb to kill suspect is “without precedent”

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