Dallas shooting

Questions raised over use of bomb robot to kill shooter

Members of a Federal Bureau of Investigation evidence team continue to work at the scene after the ambush shooting of police officers in Dallas, Texas, on July 9.
Members of a Federal Bureau of Investigation evidence team continue to work at the scene after the ambush shooting of police officers in Dallas, Texas, on July 9.PHOTO: EPA

DALLAS • The Dallas police ended a stand-off with the gunman suspected of killing five officers with a tactic that by all accounts appears to be unprecedented: It blew him up using a robot.

In doing so, it sought to protect officers who had negotiated with the man for several hours and had exchanged gunfire with him.

But the decision also ignited a debate about the increasing militarisation of the police and the remote-controlled use of force, and raised the spectre of a new era of policing.

Dallas police chief David Brown said officers had used one of the department's "bomb robots", attaching an explosive device to its arm that was detonated early on Friday when the robot was near the gunman.

"Other options would have exposed the officers to grave danger," he said.

PROTECTING OFFICERS

The further we remove the officer from the use of force and the consequences that come with it, the easier it becomes to use that tactic. It's what we have done with drones in warfare. In warfare, your object is to kill. Law enforcement has a different mission.

MR RICK NELSON, a fellow at the Centre for Strategic and International Studies and a former counterterrorism official on the National Security Council.

But the decision to deliver a bomb by robot stunned some current and former law enforcement officials, who said they believed the new tactic blurred the line between policing and warfare.

They said that it might have been an excessive use of force and that it set a precedent, adding that they were concerned that other departments across the country could begin using the same tactic.

"The further we remove the officer from the use of force and the consequences that come with it, the easier it becomes to use that tactic," said Mr Rick Nelson, a fellow at the Centre for Strategic and International Studies.

"It's what we have done with drones in warfare. In warfare, your object is to kill," Mr Nelson added. "Law enforcement has a different mission."

Other law enforcement officials supported the decision, however, and suggested they could take a similar approach if the situation calls for it.

While Mr Brown offered no additional information about the use of the robot, it appeared that officers had repurposed a remote- controlled bomb disposal vehicle.

There are other significant issues that arise when using an explosive device, according to current and former law enforcement officials. Explosions can destroy property and cause fires.

In 1985, Philadelphia officers bombed the headquarters of a self-styled black liberation group, Move. Eleven members of the group, including five children, were killed, and a fire spread through the neighbourhood, destroying more than 60 homes.

A tally by the Drone Centre at Bard College in New York showed that more than 200 federal, state and local law enforcement agencies now possess at least one explosive ordnance robot acquired through a Pentagon programme.

NEW YORK TIMES, REUTERS

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Sunday Times on July 10, 2016, with the headline 'Questions raised over use of bomb robot to kill shooter'. Print Edition | Subscribe