09:21 GMT08 August 2020
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    To take down the Dallas sniper on Thursday night, police used an explosive delivered by a robot, a first for US law enforcement agencies.

    During a mass demonstration against a recent spate of police violence, chaos erupted in Dallas when a shooter identified as Micah Xavier Johnson, evidently unaffiliated with protesters, opened fire on police officers on Thursday night. At least 12 officers were shot, in addition to two civilians. Five of the officers were killed.

    Dallas police later announced they found bomb-making materials, rifles and a journal containing combat tactics in the suspect's home.

    But the tragedy is also making headlines because of the unusual way in which the shooting suspect was neutralized.

    “We saw no other option but to use our bomb robot and place a device on its extension for it to detonate where the suspect was,” Chief David Brown told reporters on Friday. “Other options would have exposed our officers to grave danger. The suspect is deceased…He’s been deceased because of a detonation of the bomb.”

    This marks the first time that a domestic police force has used a robot to kill a suspect.

    “I’m not aware of officers using a remote-controlled device as a delivery mechanism for lethal force,” Seth Stoughton, assistant professor of law at the University of South Carolina, told the Atlantic. “This is sort of a new horizon for police technology.

    “Robots have been around for a while, but using them to deliver lethal force raises some new questions.”

    The tactic has been used abroad, of course. As defense technology expert Peter W. Singer points out, troops in Iraq have used robots to kill people targeted for assassination. Domestically, remote-controlled vehicles are used in many nonlethal capacities.

    “The SWAT team requested robot assistance to assist on a barricaded subject armed with a gun,” reads a report from the Albuquerque Police Department, circa 2014. “The Bomb Squad robot was able to deploy chemical munitions into the subjects’ motel room, which led to the subjects surrender.”

    Ultimately, Stoughton doesn’t think the Dallas police department’s decision to deploy a bomb-diffusing robot as a lethal weapon will result in excessive  controversy, since “the circumstances that justify lethal force, justify lethal force in essentially every form.”

    Still, in the long-term, concerns could arise. He points to a hypothetical scenario in which a shooter had put down their weapon, and was negotiating with police.

    “In such a case, police would likely not open up a gun battle,” David A. Graham writes for the Atlantic. “But would commanders be quicker to deploy a robot, since there would be less danger to officers? And would current lethal-force rules really justify it?

    “There is reason to believe they would not.”


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