Dallas Police Used a Robot to Kill Gunman, Save Other Lives

Negotiators had been talking for hours with the hunkered-down killer of five police officers in downtown Dallas when the man suddenly resumed firing with an assault rifle.

Fearing additional casualties, the officers deployed a small, remote-controlled robot to carry an explosive device near shooter Micah Xavier Johnson, 25, which they then detonated, killing him.

"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," Police Chief David Brown said at a news conference Friday morning. "Other options would have exposed our officers to grave danger.... We have confirmed that he's been deceased because of the detonation of the bomb."

The Dallas Police Department's unprecedented use of an explosive-laden robot to kill an armed suspect ushers in a new phase in the militarization of U.S. police departments.

The tactic illustrates what police see as the new opportunities for self-defense presented by advancing technologies and the transfer of second-hand military equipment to local police departments.

But it also raises difficult ethical questions about how and when such technologies should be deployed in a civilian setting to allow police to kill a suspect while facing little or no risk.

As police departments acquire more robots that were once seen only in war zones, civilian law enforcement officers are pushing into territory forged by the CIA and the U.S. Air Force to kill terrorists, said Ryan Calo, an assistant law professor at the University of Washington in Seattle and an expert on robotics and the law.

"This is not the beginning of killer robotics, domestically, but it is hard to distinguish this and a drone strike," Calo said. "The police had exhausted their other options, they thought."


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