Using a pair of thumb-controlled joysticks, a Dallas police officer guided a robot loaded with a pound of C-4 plastic explosive toward cop-killer Micah Xavier Johnson and blew him up. The unprecedented decision to blast Johnson, who had killed five officers in one of the worst ambushes against U.S. law enforcement in modern history, was praised as an innovative way to eliminate a threat without risking more officers’ lives, the Washington Post reports.. Police said they came up with the deadly plan in 20 minutes after Johnson said that “the end was coming” and negotiations with him broke down. Their use of a robot is prompting debate about the role of remote-controlled robots in law enforcement and whether their use to deliver lethal force should be left to the discretion of police departments or regulated by state or federal governments. “We’ve crossed a new frontier, and we look out and we see an absence of law and policy,” said Peter Singer of New America, who has written on technology, security and robotics.
That void, some worry, has the potential to lead to overuse of machines that can be used to injure, or kill, suspects. “Technology can change things,” said Jay Stanley of the American Civil Liberties Union. “When things become easier they tend to become overdone, and sometimes you need to reassess rules.” Police officials said robots were simply another tool in the police arsenal, and their use was already subject to strict laws and regulations about lethal force. “Technology cannot override the legal standards governing police use of deadly force,” said Chuck Wexler of the Police Executive Research Forum. The explosion of growth in civilian drones, including increasing use of unmanned aircraft by police departments, has also led to increasing government regulation. Several states have passed or proposed regulations governing how police can use drones, from requiring that police obtain warrants before conducting aerial surveillance to limits on how long departments can retain the data they record, says Arthur Holland Michel of Bard College’s Center for the Study of the Drone. Analysts said they knew of no state or local legislation or regulation that had been proposed on ground based-robots.