Peter W. Singer, an expert in military technology and robot warfare at the New America Foundation, tweeted that this is the first known incident of a domestic police force using a robot to kill a suspect. Singer tweeted that in the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, soldiers have strapped claymore mines to the $8,000 MARCbot using duct tape to turn them into jury-rigged killing devices. Singer says all indications are that the Dallas Police Department did something similar in this case—it improvised to turn a surveillance robot into a killing machine.
Improvised device or not, the concerns here mirror a debate that’s been going on for a few years now: Should law enforcement have access to armed drones, or, for that matter, weaponized robots? In 2013 Kentucky Senator Rand Paul staged a 13-hour filibuster that was focused entirely on concerns about the use of armed drones on US soil. Last year, North Dakota became the first state to legalize nonlethal, weaponized drones for its police officers.
“When domestic law enforcement officers can use force from a distance, it may become too easy for them to do so, and the inevitable result will be that these weapons are over-used,” Jay Stanley, a senior policy analyst for the American Civil Liberties Union wrote in a blog post while North Dakota was considering that bill. “When officers are not physically present, their perception of a situation and their judgment about when to apply force is more likely to be flawed, non-targets are more likely to be injured, and excessive amounts of force are more likely to be applied.”