The shotgun-toting robots prefer to be called “percussion actuated nonelectric disruptors,” and the Oakland Police Department wants some, though is currently offering a compromise measure where they’d only be armed with pepper spray.
Update (10/19, 4:58 p.m.): The Chronicle now reports that the Oakland Police Commission says they will not be arming the robots. In a statement, the commission announced, “after further discussions with the chief and the executive team, the department decided it no longer wanted to explore that particular option.”
Original story: The United States of America has already crossed the rubicon where law enforcement-controlled robots have killed a suspect. It was back in 2016 in Dallas, during a mass shooting situation, when police strapped some C4 explosive on a robot who blew up the suspected gunman. The robot model was a Northrop Grumman Remotec Andros Mark 5-A1 robot, and now we learn that the Oakland Police Department wants one too.
Also, according to an eyebrow-raising Monday report in The Intercept, the department wants to arm that model with guns. Except they don’t call them guns, they call them “percussion actuated nonelectric disruptors,” (PANs) which are basically accessories for that robot model that can fire bullets, or rubber bullets, or pepper spray, or various other projectiles. But given the checkered past of the Oakland Police Department, many on Oakland’s civilian police commission have real concerns about giving that force killer robots.
Commissioner Jordan says that the robot is meant to be a device of de-escalation, and that OPD wants to make it into an offensive weapon…there’s several iterations of proposed language pic.twitter.com/RSabVaxvjf
— Trash Night Heron (@hyphy_republic) September 23, 2022
“It’s a lot easier to pull out a rifle or a gun and shoot someone than to put a live round into this thing,” KTVU quotes one commissioner as saying at their September meeting. “But I think we are all concerned about the dystopian sort of universe where a robot sneaks into our room and shoots us, which I know is not the intention, but is certainly a scary thought and where our mind goes.”
There is currently a compromise measure on the table where the robots could only use pepper spray against human suspects. That compromise will go before an Oakland City Council committee meeting today. And the robot would only be able to fire the pepper spray in an emergency.
But as The Intercept points out, “the Oakland Police Department was saying what nearly every security agency says when it asks the public to trust it with an alarming new power: We’ll only use it in emergencies — but we get to decide what’s an emergency.”
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Image: Orion Pictures