Oakland Police Revealed to Have Discussed Using Armed Robots

In 2016, cops in Texas used an explosives-outfitted robot to kill a shooting suspect. This year, per a new report, Oakland police discussed similar strategies.

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The potential use of robots outfitted with the firing power of a shotgun was discussed at a recent meeting involving Oakland police and local community members.

As first reported by the Intercept this week, one such discussion in question came roughly two hours into a meeting last month with a “civilian oversight” group, with Lt. Omar Daza-Quiroz of the Oakland Police Department reported to have initially detailed how police might keep safety in mind when dealing with a percussion actuated non-electric disruptor.

The device is attached to a robot and designed to use standard commercial blank shotgun shells, although “special modified loads” have been mentioned in previously released defense trades. During the September meeting, per Sam Biddle, Daza-Quiroz first noted how those tasked with interacting with such a device would be extra careful to make certain that blank rounds were used.

When answering a question about whether a live round “could physically go in” the device, however, the conversation is reported to have started growing (expectedly) murkier. Another question, this one directly addressing whether police had plans to use live rounds, pushed it all into overdrive. While Daza-Quiroz responded with a “No,” he then proceeded to lay out a number of conditions under which police would benefit from this type of use.

As noted in the extensive report, which is available in full here, this isn’t an uncommon practice among law enforcement agencies. In short, while a particular device or strategy might be billed as only being made available to police in the event of an emergency, it’s also police who are self-appointed to define “emergency” as they see fit.

When reached for comment by Complex on Wednesday, a public information officer with the Oakland Police Department confirmed involvement in “ad hoc committee discussions” involving the local police commission and members of the community.

“The Oakland Police Department (OPD) is not adding armed remote vehicles to the department,” the rep said via email. “OPD did take part in ad hoc committee discussions with the Oakland Police Commission and community members to explore all possible uses for the vehicle. However, after further discussions with the Chief and the Executive Team, the department decided it no longer wanted to explore that particular option.”

In Monday’s Intercept report, however, Daza-Quiroz is said to have told the outlet that police are still “looking into” official language that would enable emergency-use availability of what Biddle calls “killer robots.”

Complex has also reached out to Daza-Quiroz. This story may be updated.

Law enforcement use of such technology became a nationwide talking point back in 2016 when police in Texas used an explosives-outfitted robot to kill a shooting suspect. At the time, advocates for the demilitarization of police forces cautioned how the precedent-setting incident (quickly touted as the first of its kind) could open the door for the expansion of such tech elsewhere.

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