Police Robots Could Reduce the Use of Deadly Force

Publication Type: 
Other Writing
Publication Date: 
July 14, 2016

The use of robots inevitably changes the equation for how police apply "use of force," a term that is broadly defined by the International Association of Chiefs of Police as the "amount of effort required by police to compel compliance by an unwilling subject."

We don’t have enough details about the stand-off in Dallas to assess whether deadly force was necessary. To use deadly force, the police must have believed that it was necessary to protect the public or that there was an immediate threat of death or other serious harm to themselves.

But in the future, police robots may make some threats less immediate, and perhaps de-escalate situations, reducing the need for deadly "use of force."

For example, if a robot is used to confront an armed suspect — as opposed to putting an officer’s life on the line — it could assist with an arrest by exercising some form of nondeadly force, like releasing a chemical gas.

In 2014, the Albuquerque police did just this: They used a robot to "deploy chemical munitions” in a motel room where a man had barricaded himself with a gun, forcing him to surrender.

If appropriate rules and regulations can be agreed upon by law enforcement and society, the use of robots by the police is very promising. Robots may save police officers’ lives, and enable them to use less force in apprehending suspects, which, in turn, will allow for fair trials for suspects. Robots could be used to, say, communicate with a hostage-taker or detect explosives. Still, appropriate rules for the use of robots would limit their deployment: If robots were used too widely, it would only serve to dehumanize law enforcement.

Read the full piece at The New York Times