‘Bomb Robot’ Kills Dallas Gunman, But Raises Questions About Policing

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The Dallas police ended a standoff with the gunman suspected of killing five officers with a tactic that by all accounts appears to be unprecedented: It blew him up using a robot.

In doing so, it sought to protect police officers who had negotiated with the man for several hours and had exchanged gunfire with him. But the decision also ignited a debate about the increasing militarization of the police and the remote-controlled use of force, and raised the specter of a new era of policing.

The Dallas police chief, David O. Brown, said officers had used one of the department’s “bomb robots,” attaching an explosive device to its arm that was detonated early Friday when the robot was near the gunman. “Other options would have exposed the officers to grave danger,” he said.

But the decision to deliver a bomb by robot stunned some current and former law enforcement officials, who said they believed the new tactic blurred the line between policing and warfare.

They said that it might have been an excessive use of force and that it set a precedent, adding that they were concerned that other departments across the country could begin using the same tactic.

“The further we remove the officer from the use of force and the consequences that come with it, the easier it becomes to use that tactic,” said Rick Nelson, a fellow at the Center for Strategic and International Studies and a former counterterrorism official on the National Security Council. “It’s what we have done with drones in warfare.”

“In warfare, your object is to kill,” Mr. Nelson added. “Law enforcement has a different mission.”

Other law enforcement officials supported the Dallas decision, however, and suggested they could take a similar approach if the situation calls for it. New York’s police commissioner, William J. Bratton, speaking at a news conference on Friday, said that while he was waiting to find out precisely what the Dallas police did, “we have that capability.”

“This is an individual that killed five police officers,” he added. “So God bless ’em.”

While Chief Brown offered no additional information about the use of the robot, it appeared that officers had repurposed a remote-controlled bomb disposal vehicle that is normally used to inspect dangerous crime scenes or pick up suspected explosive devices for detonation or dismantling.

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SOURCE: NY Times, Henry Fountain and Michael S. Schmidt