When police robots kill

Will lethal police robots, such as the mobile bomb used in Dallas, be confined to situations where the lives of police or others are in imminent peril? And how much will wind up depending on the judgment of law enforcement on the scene? [Matthew Feeney, Cato and more, Eugene Volokh]


  • I’ve always found it strange how concerned that some people are about the rights of the criminal, but, not about the rights of the victims. I have no problem with how the police in Dallas resolved the situation. If it was my call, I’d have had no problem in calling an airstrike if necessary. From what I understand, they knew that he was the shooter, they tried to negotiate to no avail and he was threatening to set off the bombs that he said that he had. In 20/20 hindsight there were no bombs, but the Dallas Police didn’t know that at the time and had to honor the threat. They did what they thought that they had to do.

    In another situation I might feel differently, it would depend on what that situation was.

    • I think people are, rightly, far more concerned about the victims. That’s why there was a giant nationally televised funeral for the victims and no outpouring of grief for the shooter. But when the state blows up one of its citizens with a bomb, even a citizen that is a murderer, some reflection on that power and how it is used seems appropriate. Police use of force deserves scrutiny even when it’s fully necessary and justified.

    • Jim, do you feel one of the two linked authors was “concerned … about the rights of the criminal, but not about the rights of the victims”? I would not have described either Matthew Feeney’s or Eugene Volokh’s stance that way. Both seemed more concerned about the principles that ought to guide the use of this new technology, which will affect many future cases where the facts and circumstances are more ambiguous / open to debate than in the Dallas case.

      • Not the authors, I was referring to some of the people in the comments sections.

        • Oh, OK, I misunderstood.

    • You might want to google what happened in Philadelphia and Waco when the authorities used explosives. If the police use a precision weapon to neutralize an active shooter, I don’t have a problem. When the military bombs a strategic site with collateral casualties, I can frequently accept the necessities imposed by war (not always). However, I think that concerns over the use of deadly force in any civilian setting is not inappropriate.

  • Had it actually been a robot that might raise some issues. But it was a simply remote-controlled weapon, positioned and activated by a police officer. I don’t see how that’s morally any different than shooting a firearm, or throwing a grenade – except that it allowed officers to remain out of harm’s way which given the situation was a definite plus.

    • RLM:Robot Lives Matter!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

      Actually, you’re right. In that case it was kind of a battlebot.