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'A Very Dangerous Trend’? Cop Robots Could Change the Game for US Police

CC0 / / Artificial intelligence
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In the wake of alarmingly and increasingly frequent mass shootings in the United States and fears of an imminent terror attack on US soil, police agencies across the country are reconsidering tactics.

According to Reuters, police forces in at least 15 of America’s largest cities have called for tighter security measures, including pairing up officers on calls. 

Police officers work behind police tape blocking a street near the Washington Navy Yard in Washington, Thursday, July 2, 2015 - Sputnik International
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The moves come in the wake of the shooting deaths of 5 police officers in Dallas,Texas, during an otherwise peaceful protest. Radio Sputnik spoke with David Couper, a priest and social activist who was a Madison, Wisconsin, chief of police and is a lecturer in Criminal Justice at the University of Wisconsin.

Couper focused on how technology is being used in policing, both in terms of recording incidents and how dangerous situations are being resolved.

"We’re seeing things that most of the country hasn’t seen before." he said. "[The public has] read newspapers reports and narratives, but they’ve never really seen this happen. Post-Ferguson, we’ve had far more visibility in the country about what police are doing, with regard to protests, and most upsetting are some troubling videos of people seemingly being shot for no reason."

Radio Sputnik asked, "Is there some self-correcting force inside the police that could stop these situations?"

"I think there is," Couper said, "And it’s going to be a very slow process, because we’re talking about an extremely decentralized police (system) in this country, with over half a million officers in over 17,000 police agencies. But the progressive wing of our county is starting to exert itself. The president’s task force, which issued a report about a year ago, made some very specific recommendations, and also the police executive research forum has introduced 30 guidelines on police use of force, which, if implemented, would greatly reduce the amount of deadly force the police are using in this country." 

Police tape marks off the area where a shooting took place in downtown Dallas, Friday, July 8, 2016. - Sputnik International
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After a black assailant opened fire on white police officers at a protest centered around the recent killings of Alton Sterling and Philando Castile, the shooter was killed by an armed remote-controlled bomb-diffusing robot. Couper feels that this sets a dangerous precedent. 

"These robots were designed to help police handle suspected explosive devices, now they’re being armed. Parallel to that, we have drones, and drones that can be armed," he said.

Couper suggests that if increasingly lethal military-style technology is consistently overused and misused, the very nature of the police as an institution will take a turn for the worse. 

People march holding their hands in the air in protest as they walk through Smith Park in downtown Jackson, Miss., Friday afternoon, July 8, 2016. - Sputnik International
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"I think it’s a very dangerous trend that we have to be very careful about. Not only about how police act, which of course is important, but also how they look, and the signal that they give, that we’re not dealing with civil police anymore, we’re dealing with a militarized force. And I think that’s really dangerous in a country that claims to be free and democratic."

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