Want to read Slashdot from your mobile device? Point it at m.slashdot.org and keep reading!


Forgot your password?
Robotics Crime The Military Technology

Using a Bomb Robot to Kill a Suspect Is an Unprecedented Shift in Policing (vice.com) 983

A police standoff with a suspect in the killing of five police officers in Dallas came to an abrupt end on Friday morning in an unusual way. The police said that negotiations broke down, an exchange of gunfire happened, but then they had no option but to use "bomb robot and place a device on its extension for it to detonate where the suspect was." Motherboard explains the unprecedented shift in policing. From an article: Peter W. Singer, an expert in military technology and robot warfare at the New America Foundation, tweeted that this is the first known incident of a domestic police force using a robot to kill a suspect. Singer tweeted that in the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, soldiers have strapped claymore mines to the $8,000 MARCbot using duct tape to turn them into jury-rigged killing devices. Singer says all indications are that the Dallas Police Department did something similar in this case -- it improvised to turn a surveillance robot into a killing machine. Improvised device or not, the concerns here mirror a debate that's been going on for a few years now: Should law enforcement have access to armed drones, or, for that matter, weaponized robots? In 2013 Kentucky Senator Rand Paul staged a 13-hour filibuster that was focused entirely on concerns about the use of armed drones on US soil. Last year, North Dakota became the first state to legalize nonlethal, weaponized drones for its police officers. [...] The ability for police to remotely kill suspects raises due process concerns. If a shooter is holed up and alone, can they be qualified as an imminent threat to life? Are there clear protocols about when a robot can be used to engage a suspect versus when a human needs to engage him or her? When can the use of lethal force be administered remotely?
This discussion has been archived. No new comments can be posted.

Using a Bomb Robot to Kill a Suspect Is an Unprecedented Shift in Policing

Comments Filter:
  • Major Colvin (Score:5, Insightful)

    by somenickname ( 1270442 ) on Friday July 08, 2016 @02:11PM (#52472509)

    "I mean you call something a war, and pretty soon everyone is going to be running around acting like warriors." -- Major Colvin

    Regan declared The War On Drugs and, unsurprisingly, people started acting like warriors. We now have a militarized police force that, in many areas, is effectively an occupying military. Guess what happens when an occupying military starts killing civilians? Insurgents are created.

    I have a feeling this situation is going to spiral out of control pretty quickly.

    • Re:Major Colvin (Score:5, Insightful)

      by fustakrakich ( 1673220 ) on Friday July 08, 2016 @02:21PM (#52472607) Journal

      I have a feeling this situation is going to spiral out of control pretty quickly.

      Yes, it probably will. Any RC toy car can be made to carry a bomb underneath your vehicle for very cheap. Bombing begets bombing and anger, not submission and obedience.

    • If the same thing happened when LBJ declared the war on poverty, I wouldn't want to hang around an unemployment office.
    • Others have mentioned the "war of drugs" term was coined in 1971. This was in response to the violent drug gangs that rose to prominence in the late 1960s and early 1970s. New York and Detroit was especially dangerous.

      Look up Frank Lucas aka "Superfly", Griselda Blanco aka Black Widow aka the Godmother, Felix Mitchell aka "The Cat", etc.

      Blanco alone is responsible for at least 200 murders.

      If you want to talk about Reagan, compare the situation in the cities in 1979 vs 1989. Fact is, the drug gangs were g

    • Re:Major Colvin (Score:5, Insightful)

      by SumDog ( 466607 ) on Friday July 08, 2016 @02:56PM (#52473021) Homepage Journal

      And that's why we have PRISM, MSUCLE and all those other programs everyone seems to have forgotten about.

      Surveillance is not to find terrorists. It's to stop dissent.

    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      Regan declared The War On Drugs

      And a couple generations earlier, we did Prohibition (the War on Alcohol). And pretty soon we had gangsters and cops shooting at each other with tommyguns. Got pretty bad before we managed to amend that particular amendment back out of the Constitution....

    • Actually Nixon restarted the war that began in the 20's - 30's.
  • Good solution (Score:5, Insightful)

    by pete6677 ( 681676 ) on Friday July 08, 2016 @02:11PM (#52472515)

    "If a shooter is holed up and alone, can they be qualified as an imminent threat to life?"

    In this case, definitely yes. Obviously a blanket judgement cannot be made for all cases. Each situation is entirely different.

  • Really? (Score:5, Insightful)

    by iamwhoiamtoday ( 1177507 ) on Friday July 08, 2016 @02:12PM (#52472521)

    5 people are dead. 5 more are in the hospital.

    There are major perceived racial issues and conflicts at hand, and you want to focus on the specific equipment at hand?

    This was not an autonomous killing machine. It was similar to an RC car with an explosive charge attached to it. All other attempts to kill the gunman had failed, and putting even more people into extreme risk was ill-advised. Putting him down *hard* was the best possible option given the situation.
    The gunman was actively shooting other people. At that point, killing them via whatever method is the only sane option. The situation had already been escalated beyond most thresholds.

    Turning the conversation into a "but... robots are evil" mess detracts from the very real issues at hand.

    • Re:Really? (Score:5, Insightful)

      by guruevi ( 827432 ) <evi AT evcircuits DOT com> on Friday July 08, 2016 @02:21PM (#52472611) Homepage

      Not really. It just shows that most police departments are lazy and rather revenge kill than protect. We've had standoffs last weeks when it involves private militia. The shooter was driven back into a hole and had no way out nor any hostages nor a viable target. He will run out of stamina, food, bullets eventually, but he already killed a cop so he must die that hour.

    • Re:Really? (Score:5, Insightful)

      by barc0001 ( 173002 ) on Friday July 08, 2016 @02:24PM (#52472647)

      >5 people are dead. 5 more are in the hospital.

      > There are major perceived racial issues and conflicts at hand, and you want to focus on the specific equipment at hand?

      Yes, actually. Here is the problem: The situation is emotionally charged right now, and that is not the place from which to make long lasting policy.

      > This was not an autonomous killing machine. It was similar to an RC car with an explosive charge attached to it

      OK fine. So does that mean that in future the police should be authorized to use RC cars with explosives embedded in them to stop car chases in a manner similar to the awful Clint Eastwood movie "The Dead Pool"? Perhaps mandating the RC cars in question must be equipped with a speaker belting out "Welcome to the Jungle" as well?

      Or maybe that's silly. After all, Reaper drones are similar to RC planes and we already know they work well. From a functional standpoint, taking out the perpetrator with that remote bomb bot and bomb was a drone strike. It was a remotely operated vehicle that was deliberately guided to kill a target by using an explosive device.

      Do we REALLY want to open the door to using drone strikes in policing? Today it's a sniper. Tomorrow? Raid on a drug house? The day after that, who knows? We already know from experience that extraordinary measures put in place "only for terrorists" have been abused all to hell.

    • Re:Really? (Score:5, Insightful)

      by sexconker ( 1179573 ) on Friday July 08, 2016 @02:48PM (#52472933)

      The gunman was not an imminent threat. No attempt to kill him should have been made.
      He was trapped. Wait him out.

    • Re:Really? (Score:4, Insightful)

      by Anonymous Coward on Friday July 08, 2016 @02:53PM (#52472993)

      All other attempts? You mean like waiting for him to get hungry/thirsty? Gassing him out?

      The shooter was a major arsewipe and I'm not sad that he is removed from this planet... HOWEVER, what the police did was overstep their power and committed murder.

      Police are not supposed to sentence someone to death. They can arrest and the court decides who gets sentenced in what way. By murdering the sniper they overstepped their power.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Friday July 08, 2016 @02:13PM (#52472529)


    "It has been 28 years since police lieutenant Frank Powell leaned from a helicopter and tossed a gym bag packed with C-4 and Tovex explosives onto a residential rowhome in West Philadelphia, leading to the deaths of six adults and five children, along with the complete destruction of 61 homes.

    On May 13, 1985 at about 5:30 PM, Philadelphia gained the immortal moniker of "The City That Bombed Itself"; a brutal ending to the city's longstanding struggle with an organization that called itself MOVE."

  • No issue (Score:4, Insightful)

    by whoever57 ( 658626 ) on Friday July 08, 2016 @02:16PM (#52472553) Journal

    This isn't an issue, as long as there is a human controlling the robot.

    It's like saying that using a rifle raises issues because the rifle is isn't close to the target. Using the robot merely slows down the process of moving the killing object from the source to the target.

    No, a real issue would be autonomous killing devices. They are coming and will probably be in use before there is general awareness of them. Their use is more likely after that experiment that showed an autonomous robot pilot was better than a skilled human pilot. [newsweek.com]

  • by Anonymous Coward on Friday July 08, 2016 @02:16PM (#52472559)

    This is a tremendous shift. They didn't just detonate a bomb nearby the subject, the PLACED a bomb near the subject and detonated it. In my opinion that is not law enforcement, that's assassination.

    Opinions aside there are a few questions raised: does the bomb squad keep a stock of bombs around? Are they fragmentary devices? Undirected charges or directional? Did they fabricate this bomb themselves or repurpose an existing explosive? Is this something they train for or were they improvising on scene (potentially risking even more lives)? Who made the risk/benefit determination? Similarly, who approved this action? The police chief? The Mayor? Governor? FBI? Justice department? Was compliance with the posse comitatus act waived? By whom?

    • > They didn't just detonate a bomb nearby the subject, the PLACED a bomb near the subject and detonated it. In my opinion that is not law enforcement, that's assassination.

      So the definition is how fast the killing projectile approcaches the suspect? If they used a bullet it'd be fine, since it arrives quickly?

  • Bomb VS gas? (Score:4, Interesting)

    by phorm ( 591458 ) on Friday July 08, 2016 @02:25PM (#52472659) Journal

    What I wondered is: did the suspect have a gas mask? If not (I haven't seen anything that said he did), why not launch some tear gas - or even have the robot deploy it - rather than an explosive device?

    If they took the guy alive, then perhaps they could have gotten information on accomplices etc.

  • by nehumanuscrede ( 624750 ) on Friday July 08, 2016 @02:33PM (#52472749)

    They effectively used a suicide bomber with an IED to get the job done.

    Something that we, as America, have a tendency to denounce whenever it's used against us.
    We're not going to shoot them anymore, we're going to blow them up . . . . . . lol . .. outstanding.

    What's next ? We going to strap a suicide vest on the K9's, let them run the suspects down ?
    Maybe fill a police car with explosives and drive it into the house the bad guys are holed up in ? :|

    Here's a thought, maybe someone should take a step back and figure out what the problem is
    here. ( Hint: Police keep killing folks. Many of them unarmed, in handcuffs, and mostly black )

    Of all the people killed by police under questionable circumstances, how many times were the police
    prosecuted for it ?


    Once enough folks lose faith in the system, they will cease to rely upon it. The results can be quite
    devastating. The police love to tell everyone " This is a war ! ". Though now that folks are no longer playing
    by their rules, the game becomes a little more difficult to play doesn't it ?

    I suppose the same argument can be made for the Government's behavior as of late. ( I'm looking at you
    FBI ) When the rich and powerful get a free pass to do whatever they want, the rest take notice. When
    that system pisses enough people off, I would expect the reaction will be very similar.

    • by Pascoea ( 968200 ) on Friday July 08, 2016 @03:54PM (#52473737)

      Hint: Police keep killing folks. Many of them unarmed, in handcuffs, and mostly black

      Emphasis mine, and [Citation Needed]

      Now, I can't disagree, police killing people is a problem, but why does race ALWAYS have to play a part? According to this [qctimes.com] 100 (ish) people were killed by police last month. 35 white, 27 black, 19 latino. Why do we only care about the black ones?

      • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

        by cryptizard ( 2629853 )
        We care about all of them. The difference is that when a police officer kills an unarmed white person, the department has the decency to fire them and sometimes they go to jail. If it's a black person, they get a paid vacation and a bunch of racists raise half a million dollars for their legal defense on gofundme.
  • by stooo ( 2202012 ) on Friday July 08, 2016 @03:01PM (#52473077)

    Seems like the USA is going more and more into a civilian war ...

  • by rsilvergun ( 571051 ) on Friday July 08, 2016 @03:04PM (#52473119)
    And drones in general is that you can kill a man without risking an Officer's life It sounds fucked up when i day it like that, but the whole situation's foobared. I mean, when it's this easy to take out a perp why wouldn't you?
  • by Guyle ( 79593 ) on Friday July 08, 2016 @03:32PM (#52473465)

    If the suspect Johnson was shot and killed during exchanges of gunfire twenty minutes into the standoff, no one would care. He was a shooter, he was shooting at cops, he got shot. It would become a part of the tragedy that was last night, but no one would be calling for the head of the Dallas police officer who fired the gun with the bullet that ended his life.

    Instead, DPD negotiated with him for hours. They gave him every opportunity to peacefully end the standoff, to lay down arms and leave with his life. I can only speculate on how those hours passed since we don't have details yet. But you don't spend that time before you drive a robot in with an explosive device without giving him several warnings. Johnson knew the only way out was if he laid down arms and came out with his hands up. Johnson chose not to do so. Instead he chose to continue to be a threat to the people of Dallas, to continue taking shots at police officers, and to continue to make threats on the citizens of the city. His life was in his own hands.

    It is a tragedy that the end was what it was. This man chose to plan, organize, and execute a planned attack upon law enforcement officers who were guarding citizens demonstrating peacefully. This isn't about war, this is about terror. For the most part no one here in the Dallas-Fort Worth metroplex is blaming anyone except for the individuals who carried out this attack. The rhetoric and platforming is primarily coming from y'all, the rest of the world. Here we're just mourning the loss of five officers who died in a peaceful situation for absolutely no reason other than other people were consumed by hatred enough to ambush them in the line of duty.

    I don't care what the sides are. I don't care about anyone nitpicking the means. I care about the people around me. Y'all should too. And that's where it should end.

    • You're right. This isn't about platforms, this is about following the law and IMNSHO, DPD did not do that. Without any information except what has been reported on this and other websites, it appears that after preventing his ability to move, cordoning off the area and attempting to negotiate for hours, they made a judgment call to end his life. He may or may not have been a threat to the general population or to the officers on scene. Regardless, the power to end another life is precisely what is at issue in the mind of the shooter, the mind of the police and the mind of every US citizen that is aware of the increase in police violence. Civilian police forces should not be in the business of killing people and that's what the constitution is talking about with the phrase "due process". It's the military's job to kill people and the military are not peace officers, they are war officers. The distinction is important and bound by law, but increasingly ignored by police forces with the aid of the federal government. The militarization (not just a FUD word, but literally, the conversion of peace officers to war officers) of police forces is the issue and the reason why there was a protest in Dallas and the reason why Johnson went mental and decided to kill cops there. Assassinating him (look up the definition) only reinforces the feeling among Americans that the police are out of control. Did he deserve to die? Most likely, but it isn't the job of police forces to determine that. That is what a judge and jury are for and one of the reasons thirteen colonies because thirteen states after a long and bloody war. If there is not a strong legal reaction to DPD's use of force in this way, the situation will get worse, not better. If there is not a show of restraint by those who are sworn to "serve and protect" there will be escalation that leads to civil war. The USA has already had one and we should do everything we can to avoid another because it was the single great cause of American deaths, ever. If you say you care about people, then you should care about upholding the law, especially for those who are given guns by the government chosen "by the people".
  • What's new? (Score:4, Interesting)

    by Deadstick ( 535032 ) on Friday July 08, 2016 @03:44PM (#52473641)

    Only one thing about the whole recent train of events is new:

    Smartphones. They've either ripped our heads out of the sand, or overturned a rock, whichever metaphor you prefer. Now what police have long been accused of, and what could reasonably be viewed skeptically, is out in the open.

    Should the shooter have done it? No, but that's immaterial.
    Was it wrong? Yes, but that's immaterial.
    Should he have been engaged with lethal force? Yes, but that's immaterial.

    Brutalize a population long enough, and they'll strike out. Forget right and wrong: they WILL, and we can't talk it away or threaten it away. If you don't remove the stimulus, it will just keep happening. And thanks to the smartphone, we now know whether the stimulus is still around or not.

    • The ability to disable taking a video with a smartphone is on the horizon.
      Don't assume just because everyone can video everything now that it will always be that way.
      As time goes on, the smartphone will become more of a user-tracking/user-monitoring device and less of the free-for-all that we have assumed that it is.
  • Lets see the video (Score:4, Insightful)

    by MDMurphy ( 208495 ) on Friday July 08, 2016 @04:21PM (#52474017)

    Presumably this robot, under police control, had a video camera so the operator could guide it to the target. I'd like to see that video. I'd be Ok with it not showing the gruesome outcome, but the trip to the target, what the target was doing at the time and the eventual detonation. You'd think that a robot carrying a package to an armed man would have been been viewed with some suspicion, even for this unprecedented action. Did it get close enough to see the target? Did it confirm that the target still armed and dangerous at the time? If he aimed his gun at the robot, will that be construed as an aggressive act against a police officer? Who detonated the bomb? If it's a legal, justifiable action, then knowing who did it should be public.

  • Fuck The Police. (Score:4, Interesting)

    by zenlessyank ( 748553 ) on Friday July 08, 2016 @05:14PM (#52474417)
    Been watching these assholes sling their weight around for almost 50 years. Fuck the assholes who make the laws who empower the police. Police are just another cult group like the NRA or the Catholic Church, preying on peoples fears. Everyone wants us to feel sorry for the Police since they got ambushed, yet I didn't see any of those same assholes bitching about their fellow cult members shooting unarmed citizens. Downmod away.
  • Founding Fathers (Score:4, Interesting)

    by Tenebrousedge ( 1226584 ) <tenebrousedge AT gmail DOT com> on Friday July 08, 2016 @05:54PM (#52474631)

    The founders of this nation distrusted standing armies, viewing them as inherent threats to liberty. The Second Amendment was primarily established as a way to secure the ability of the People to defend their Nation. The burning of the Capitol in 1814 might well have heralded the death of the civilian militia: the defenders, though vastly more numerous, were unarmed or poorly armed, and completely failed to impede the British Army. Even before the War of 1812, with the purchase of the original six frigates of the United States Navy, we turned away from the path of the citizen militia, and since then we have gone so far away from the ideals of our founding as to have amassed the largest and most expensive defensive force that the world has ever seen.

    There have been a handful of examples where the U.S. Military has been used against its own citizens, but overall the threat to (domestic) liberty has been negligible, although the internment of Japanese Americans during WWII could be an important exception to the rule. The Founders' fears of standing armies were completely mistaken -- or were they?

    Until the middle of the 19th Century, guns were expensive, time-consuming to maintain and to fire, and police forces when they existed at all were armed with swords and clubs. During the middle of the 19th Century, however, we see a great shift [guncite.com] in American society and culture. The Civil War spread both arms and conflict, and men like Samuel Colt both popularized and enabled gun ownership on a wide scale. It was (as far as I am aware) during this era that police forces were instituted -- and armed.

    Today we have a national crisis. The country resounds with gunfire, and daily we hear of new atrocities, of acts of brutality, and of ever-greater police powers. I believe that we have taken the idea of the citizen soldier to its ultimate bloody conclusion, and that we must disband this hostile Army which has set itself over us. I believe we also have a duty to disband the Gun Culture or perhaps even to disarm ourselves as well, given the failure of the purpose of the 2nd Amendment and the examples of other countries around the globe. We have badly strayed from our founding principles. We have a new Civil War which is escalating daily. We need to drastically revise our society, starting with our Police.

  • Immeninent Threat? (Score:4, Interesting)

    by ZeroWaiteState ( 3804969 ) on Friday July 08, 2016 @06:55PM (#52474971)
    He just killed 5 people and wounded others. The five he killed were armed and trained. Of course he was an imminent threat. Would you walk into a building some fuknut was likely trying to lure you into after all that? I'll admit that the remote control drones have encouraged a casual attitude toward killing in other theaters, but there was nothing casual about this particular event. They absolutely made the right call to not risk any more lives trying to take that guy. If I was going to debate against use of drones I wouldn't start with the incident where it was unquestionably the best decision.

"Don't worry about people stealing your ideas. If your ideas are any good, you'll have to ram them down people's throats." -- Howard Aiken