Report: Oakland police consider use of possibly lethal robots

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According to a report by the Intercept published Monday, an Oakland police spokesperson said that despite objections from a civilian oversight board, the department still has its sights on using said robots. The police department needs permission from a “governing body,” per California law, to use military-grade percussion-activated non-electric (or PAN) disruptors, which could be outfitted with live rounds.

Typically, PAN disruptors are used to disable bombs from up to 10 meters away using blank shells. At a September Oakland Police Commission subcommittee meeting, Oakland Police Lt. Omar Daza-Quiroz explained to subcommittee member Jennifer Tu how the robots could be armed with lethal force.

“Yeah, physically, a live round can go in, absolutely, and you’d be getting a shotgun round,” Daza-Quiroz said.

He went on to say, “I mean, is it possible we have an active shooter in a place we can’t get to? And he’s fortified inside a house?” 

“Could we add some prohibition against using the robot with live ammunition?” Tu asked in a follow-up.

“I don’t want to add a prohibit to use,” replied Daza-Quiroz. “That’s something we have to revisit after the fact, because what if we do need it for some situation later on. … Have we tried it? No, we haven’t.”

While the technology has been billed as a way for police to intervene in crisis situations with reduced risk, critics caution that the deployment of robots in this context could, in fact, make police more likely to cause harm.

“The ease of use of weapons as well as the dangerous legal precedence justifying the causal use of weapons makes police less likely to attempt to deescalate situations,” Electronic Frontier Foundation analyst Matthew Guariglia told the Intercept.

Daza-Quiroz, according to a 2013 East Bay Express report, faced 74 use-of-force complaints. Quiroz was among two officers sued by the family of Derrick Jones, an East Oakland barbershop owner, for excessive force. Daza-Quiroz and another officer, Eriberto Perez-Angeles, shot and killed Jones in 2010; Oakland paid the family $225,000 in the case. The Contra Costa Times reported Daza-Quiroz, when asked by an investigator why he did not tase Jones, said, “I wanted to get lethal.”

An Oakland police spokesperson did not provide comment to SFGATE, instead referring to its website.

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