RoboCops : The New Policing Tool

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Police around the world are now using remote-controlled automated devices to disarm and stop suspects. The Los Angeles police department uses a robot to search a squad car for explosives (Image Credit: © latimes)

Automated devices have been used across a broad range of industries to assist with a multitude of tasks. Many manufacturing processes are now automated, and much has been said about human jobs being replaced by robots. Of all the jobs that have been replaced by automation, few would think of police. Over the past ten years, however, robots have increasingly been used in police departments, at first to defuse bombs. They’re pretty unsophisticated-little more than a remote-controlled car with a periscope and rudimentary tools. But the little robots come in handy when used as a substitute for a police officer in risky situations. Earlier this  month in New Jersey, police attempting to defuse a bomb cut the wrong wire. The bomb exploded. Because they were using a robot, no one was harmed.

Around the world, such devices are being used in high risk situations to protect lives-primarily those of police. In India, riot drones are used by police to spray paintballs and other nonlethal material at protesters. The Israeli military designed a small rover that can hold weapons and has multiple cameras and radio, and is used in combat situations for safer maneuvering. And in Cleveland, Ohio, this year, a robot designed by college students was used at the Republican National Convention to look for explosives.

Just this past week, police used a robot to disarm a gunman in a six hour standoff. Brock Ray Bunge, suspected of robbing two people and attempting to kill a third, refused to surrender from his desert hideout. Outnumbered, he refused to comply with the Los Angeles Police Department. Law enforcement then used a different tactic: they distracted Mr. Bunge by repeatedly demanding his surrender over loudspeaker while quietly deploying a robot. Approaching from behind, the robot simply snatched the rifle off the ground without his noticing. When he discovered it was gone, Ray Bunge immediately surrendered.

With all of the recent news about police in the U.S., it’s hard to feel terribly reassured about automated policing aids. If a police robot malfunctions and harms someone, are police culpable? What if the person targeted by the robot is actually innocent? The LAPD were able to disarm the violent suspect; they simply programmed the robot to snatch his gun.

This could be the best possible outcome for automated policing-violent situations end without anyone getting hurt.