SHOULD POLICE USE ROBOTS TO KILL
A typical bomb robot, this one used in 2011 in nearby Arlington, Texas during the Super Bowl. (AP Photo/Tony Gutierrez)
Last week, as America watched, 5 Dallas police officers were shot to death. In the hours that followed, police worked to corner the suspect in a parking garage. After being unable to get the suspect to surrender, a robot was sent in and a bomb was detonated, killing the suspect.
Most of us were so in shock from the brutal murder that took place that we did not take the time to ask any questions about the method of murder of this suspect, or the implications for using such a drone for work like this.
Police robots can save lives. These robots were developed for use in the military, and recently, they have been part of many police forces as well. When faced with a situation where a suspicious package or potential bomb can be safely taken out, these robots can go where an officer would not be safe. These robots have movable parts that enable them to walk up and down stairs and arms that can grab and manipulate a strange package. They are fitted with cameras and speakers that give officers the ability to see and hear what is going on in an area where it is unsafe for an officer or soldier to go in.
These robots can pretty much do anything that a human officer can do. Recently, one was used to deliver tear gas into an area where they were trying to flush out a suspect.
In the case of the shooter in Dallas last week, the police asked the suspect, 'Do you wish to come out or not? If you do not, we will take you out'. And that is what they did. Within minutes, the robot made it's way into the area where the suspect was hiding, and blew him up. Although robots have been used before to be sent in to detonate a potential bomb, this is the first time that a robot was deliberately sent in to kill a man. This brings up questions we must all ask ourselves.
I totally get it that police officers are in danger daily as they maneuver through the situations out there where people want them dead. If it were my son or husband, I would want them to do whatever they needed to do to get home at night. If I were faced with whether I should try to negotiate with someone who could harm me, or take them out, that robot would be running toward the suspect. That is why I am not in law enforcement. I am a coward. I have a natural aversion to pain. I would not be a good officer.
But, having said that, I ask the question - when should such a weapon be used...if at all? Could they have sent in the robot with tear gas? Did the officers feel impending danger by allowing the suspect to stay in the garage for awhile while they tried to coax him out? Were they reacting to the situation that 5 men were down, and they needed to be sure no one else was injured? Were they really in any danger at that point?
Remember, as important as it is to keep alive, those officers also must uphold the law of due process. We can not become a vigilante society that "takes out" any threat because we have the ability to do so. Regardless of what we know, suspects are still guaranteed a trial by law. The robot takes the trial out of the equation totally. It does away with anyone that they deem a threat or someone that "deserves to die". We are getting far too used to scenes like what happened after the Boston bombing, where the boat was riddled with bullets, taking out the suspect. We have convinced ourselves that because they have killed, they deserve to be killed. We are justifying taking the law into our own hands and ending it on street corners, in garages, and other venues where the original crime was committed. These robots open it up for murder on the streets to be an eye for an eye. I know myself.
Before I get roasted for my comments, go with me here for a moment. My concern is that this could be the norm for dealing with danger and could very easily be overused - as the taser has been. Let's assume we have a protest on a campus. The college kids are getting belligerent, and threatening the police. At what point does a robot get sent in to take out some of the crowd ? Can an action like that be justified because it would potentially save the lives of officers by a potential threat? What if we have a police officer who just loses his patience, and sends in a robot to a suspected drug house, and blows it up, because the suspects inside may be carrying? Those old enough will remember when a government chose to take down a demonstration by using tanks (weapon of choice) rather than risk harm to themselves in Tienanmen Square. Our governments response is only as good as the trust we put in them not to harm us unnecessarily.
America can not become a war zone. We can not become a society where killing becomes a job of a drone or robot and we forget there are people there that deserve a trial. Most American's would be shocked at the technology that is now available for crowd control and police use. It makes the stun gun look like a squirt gun. I believe the use of this weapon was a test case- to see how American's would react to this type of weapon being used. There has been very little push back or question from the public. Most people say, "Well, the guy deserved it". I did not hear that the suspect was still shooting at the officers. I did not hear reports that they were in immediate danger. I grieve and pray for those officers and their families. But we must wrestle through how will weapons like this be used, and when will they be used.
On commenting about the use of the "killer robots" Chief Scott Goldstein remarked that he did not see these as "killer robots" because they are operated remotely.
Food for thought.
WGON op ed writer Cindy Gore 7/12/16