Tag: technology

Amazon Patents Police Traffic Stop Drone

Last July, Dallas police used a robot to kill the man who fatally shot five Dallas-area police officers. Shortly after the shooting I noted that new technologies, such as robots, should prompt lawmakers to find ways to make the face-to-face interactions citizens have with officers safer and less frequent. A recent Amazon patent reveals how new technologies can play a role in improving traffic stops, one of the most common citizen-police encounters.

Amazon Technologies, Inc. recently secured a patent for small shoulder-mounted police drones. The patent abstract explains that, “The techniques and systems can include routines to provide enhanced support for police during routine traffic stops.”

Drones like the one detailed in the Amazon patent could help improve traffic stops. Drones would allow police to examine a pulled-over vehicle before approaching in person. This increased situational awareness would help police officers, providing them with valuable information about how many people are in the car and whether the driver or any passengers have their hands in sight. As drone technology improves it’s likely that police will be able to use similar drones to issue commands. 

If appropriate accountability policies are enacted, these small drones could serve as useful tools in police misconduct investigations. Drone footage of the Philando Castile and Samuel DuBose shootings, for example, would have been helpful to investigators.

But despite the potential for these small drones being useful in misconduct investigations and helping police during traffic stops, citizens may be concerned about the impact such drones could have on their civil liberties. Having a small drone buzzing around your car during a traffic stop may be unnerving, but unless the drone is outfitted with sophisticated surveillance tools it’s unlikely that it will prompt a robust Constitutional challenge.

If these small Amazon drones are equipped with traditional cameras and don’t enter a car during a traffic stop, then they will only be capturing images of material in “plain view.” Nonetheless, citizens should be wary of small police drones being outfitted with surveillance technology that could raise constitutional issues, such as thermal scanners.

New technologies such as drones and body cameras will undoubtedly play an increasingly prominent role in law enforcement. Small drones like the one described in Amazon’s patent could help make routine traffic stops safer for officers and citizens. However, as the ongoing debates about body cameras have demonstrated, these new technologies can only serve as tools for worthwhile criminal justice reform if they’re governed by good policies. It’s not hard to see how small drones could help police and citizens during traffic stops. But as police drones become more common we shouldn’t forget that they can serve as platforms for a host of technologies that threaten civil liberties.

One Police Video, Many Interpretations

Members of the public should be able to access the body camera footage related to Tuesday’s police-involved shooting that left Keith Scott dead and prompted violent protests in Charlotte, North Carolina. But we shouldn’t be under any illusion that everyone who watches the footage will arrive at the same opinion about the police officer’s behavior. Two people can watch the same video and come to different moral conclusions. A study on video footage that proved instrumental in a Supreme Court case helps illustrate this fact.

In Scott v. Harris (2007) the Supreme Court considered whether a police officer (Scott) had violated the Fourth Amendment when he deliberately ran Harris’ car off the road during a high-speed chase, which resulted in Scott being left a quadriplegic. An 8-1 majority found that, “a police officer’s attempt to terminate a dangerous high-speed car chase that threatens the lives of innocent bystanders does not violate the Fourth Amendment, even when it places the fleeing motorist at risk of serious injury or death.”

Using Persistent Surveillance to Watch the Watchmen

Yesterday, police in Oklahoma released aerial and dash camera footage of an unarmed man named Terence Crutcher being shot by an officer as he stood beside his SUV. Tulsa Police Chief Chuck Jordan described the footage as “very difficult to watch,” and the officer who shot Crutcher is on administrative leave. The aerial footage of the shooting ought to remind us how important transparency policy is in the age of the “Pre-Search” and the role persistent aerial surveillance may come to play in police misconduct investigations.

Reporting from earlier this year revealed that police in Baltimore have been testing persistent aerial surveillance technology, described by its developer as “Google Earth with TiVo,” which allows users to keep around 30 square miles under surveillance. The technology, developed by Persistent Surveillance Systems (PSS), has helped Baltimore police investigate thefts and shootings. But the trial was conducted in secret, without the knowledge of key Baltimore city officials, and was financed by a billionaire couple.

Shortly after news of the persistent surveillance in Baltimore was reported I and others noted that it should cause concern. Citizens engaged in lawful behavior deserve to know if their movements are being filmed and tracked by police for hours at a time. Yet, as disturbing as the secretive persistent surveillance in Baltimore is, technology already exists that is far more intrusive.

Harsh Consequences Required for Officers Who Fail to Activate Body Cameras

Last Thursday, a Chicago police officer shot unarmed 18-year-old Paul O’Neal in the back, killing him. O’Neal reportedly crashed a stolen car into a police vehicle during a chase and then fled on foot. Two officers then fired at O’Neal. This is the kind of incident where body camera footage would be very helpful to investigators. The officer who shot O’Neal was outfitted with a body camera. Unfortunately, the camera wasn’t on during the shooting, raising difficult questions about the rules governing non-compliance with body camera policy. While there is undoubtedly a learning curve associated with body cameras officers who fail to have them on during use-of-force incidents should face harsh consequences.

Body camera footage of O’Neal’s shooting would make the legality of the killing easier to determine. The Supreme Court ruled in Tennessee v. Garner (1985) that a police officer cannot use lethal force on a fleeing suspect unless “the officer has probable cause to believe that the suspect poses a significant threat of death or serious physical injury to the officer or others.” The Chicago Police Department’s own use-of-force guidelines allow officers to use a range of tools (pepper spray, canines, Tasers) to deal with unarmed fleeing suspects under some circumstances, but the firearm is not one of them.

O’Neal’s shooting would be legal if the officer who shot him had probable cause to believe that he posed a threat of death or serious injury to members of the public or police officers. Given the information available, perhaps most significantly the fact that O’Neal was unarmed, it looks likely that O’Neal’s died as a result of unjustified use of lethal force.

So far, the Chicago Police Department has stripped three officers involved in the chase and shooting of police powers, with Superintendent Eddie Johnson saying that the officers violated department policy. O’Neal’s mother has filed a federal civil rights lawsuit, alleging that her son was killed “without legal justification.”

Should Police Robots Prompt a Use-of-Force Rethink?

Last week police in Dallas used an explosive attached to a robot to kill a man suspected of killing five Dallas-area police officers and wounding eleven other people, including two non-officers. The detonation-by robot is widely believed to be the first killing of its kind in the history of American policing, and has prompted much discussion and debate. In the days since the Dallas shooting, questions have been raised concerning when police should be permitted to kill citizens and if lethal use-of-force policy should change depending on the tool police officers use the kill citizens. While it is tempting to view new technologies as devices worthy of a special set of rules, policymakers should consider regulations that make police-citizen interactions safer and less frequent rather than craft new use-of-force rules for robots.

For the purposes of this post, assume that what Dallas Police Chief David Brown said about the killing of the suspect is true. According to Brown, following hours of failed negotiation “[Dallas police] saw no other option but to use our bomb robot and place a device on its extension for it to detonate where the suspect was.” He also said, “Other options would have exposed our officers to grave danger.”

Given America’s federalist system, it is appropriate that there is no universal use-of-force policy guiding this country’s roughly 18,000 law enforcement agencies. Yet police officers are generally permitted to use force in order to make a suspect comply with a lawful order or arrest. Such force is deemed excessive when it goes beyond what is necessary, although there isn’t a nationwide consensus on what is deemed excessive. For instance, in some jurisdictions chokeholds are permitted while in others they’re banned.  

Despite the diversity of American police departments, most use-of-force policies allow for a police officer to use deadly force if he reasonably believes that a suspect poses a threat of serious injury or death to the officer himself or others. The Dallas shooting suspect clearly fits into this category.

While the use of robots to kill suspects may prompt a sense of unease among some–evoking scenes from dystopian science fiction movies–there are few reasons to think that a robot should be treated differently from a handgun or sniper rifle under deadly use-of-force policy.

Police Use Robot to Kill Dallas Suspect

Last night Dallas police officers used a bomb robot to kill the suspected perpetrator of a shooting that left five Dallas-area police officers dead and seven others wounded. Two citizens were also wounded in the shooting. While police have used robots to deliver chemical agents and pizza, it looks as if the deployment of the robot bomb last night was the first time American police officers have used a robot to kill someone.

Police reportedly used the robot after hours of negotiation with the suspect broke down. According to Dallas Police Chief David Brown, “We saw no other option but to use our bomb robot and place a device on its extension for it to detonate where the suspect was.” He went on to say, “Other options would have exposed our officers to grave danger.”

The death of the alleged shooter in Dallas should prompt us to think carefully about how new technologies will be used by police to deliver lethal force. Robots like the one use by Dallas police last night are used by police departments across the country as part of bomb squads. But it’s worth keeping in mind that these robots will continue to improve, making it easier for police to use them in situations like the standoff in Dallas.

Appeals Court Approves Net Neutrality Rules

The United States Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia upheld on Tuesday June 14, 2016 so called “net neutrality” rules issues by the Federal Communications Commission in February 2015.  Two previous attempts by the FCC to regulate the internet under different sections of the Telecommunications Act were overturned by the same court in 2010 and 2014 reflecting the traditional policy distinction between heavily regulated traditional telephone landline service and so-called information services involving computers that were not regulated.

The rule issued by the FCC in 2015 reclassified internet services as falling under the same legal regime as traditional telephone service.  Yesterday’s Appeal Court decision accepts that reclassification and the legal authority that goes with it.

Regulation has published four articles in the last two years year criticizing traditional public utility regulation of the internet.  Christopher Yoo from the University of Pennsylvania argues that traditional telephone regulation envisions a monopoly service and government oversight ostensibly intended to limit prices and expand service provision. But the expansion of wireless high-speed Internet has allowed multiple competitive providers to provide service to a large majority of American consumers while restraining capital costs.  “What Hath the FCC Wrought”, by former FCC chief economist Gerald Faulhaber, argues that service quality will suffer to the extent that internet access providers can’t charge more for streams that impose greater costs on the system. Kansas State professor Dennis Weisman argues that internet regulation will likely protect competitors from competition rather than serve consumer interests just like the old telephone regulatory scheme. And Larry Downes from the Georgetown Center for Business and Public Policy argues that the movement to re-regulate telecom is propelled by some firms’ quest for rents under new regulation, and by Federal Communications Commission attempt to regain political power and the benefits that come with it. 

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