Republican convention gets 'bomb robots' like the one used against the Dallas shooter

Ohio law-enforcement agencies have at least 20 robots similar to the kind that was rigged with a bomb by Dallas police earlier this month.

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3 min read

A Remotec bomb-disposal robot similar to the kind that will be on hand at the Republican convention in Cleveland.

Northrop Grumman

Robots like the one police used to kill the suspect in the July 7 shooting deaths of five officers in Dallas will be available to law enforcement in charge of security at next week's Republican National Convention.

On Thursday, police in Cleveland, where the RNC takes place, showed off a robot that its bomb squad plans to use if suspicious packages or similar threats are discovered.

The robot, demonstrated by Sgt. Tim Maffo-Judd in the video below, is not designed to be used as a weapon. According to Reuters, it's a Remotec F5A explosive ordnance device robot.

That's the same model Dallas police used to position a bomb near suspect Micah Johnson after officers were shot dead during a protest over police killings of black men in Minnesota and Louisiana.

Johnson had holed up in a downtown Dallas building and a firefight ensued after hours of negotiations between the suspect and police failed.

"When all attempts to negotiate with the suspect...failed under the exchange of gunfire, the department utilized the mechanical tactical robot, as a last resort, to deliver an explosion device to save the lives of officers and citizens," the Dallas Police Department explained in a blog post earlier this month.

The incident is believed to be the first time a US law-enforcement agency used a robot to kill a suspect, and it touched off whole new debates about the militarization of policing, the role of robots in society, and the potential hackability of such systems, just for starters.

The incident also came just weeks before the GOP convention in Cleveland, where Donald Trump is expected to be named the party's nominee for president.

Trump's campaign events have been marred by conflict, including incidents of violence, between supporters of the candidate and protesters. Tens of thousands of people are expected to descend on Cleveland to show their support for Trump or opposition to him. That's prompted the Department of Homeland Security to send 3,000 employees from its various agencies to support state and local officers from around Ohio in policing the city.

Plenty of those law-enforcement agencies have so-called "bomb robots" of their own. According to public records, more than 20 robots similar to the one in Dallas have been transferred to local law-enforcement agencies in Ohio, including at least three to the State Highway Patrol.

The robots have come through a program called "1033" and others like it, which allow for unneeded military equipment to be donated, sold or otherwise transferred to law-enforcement agencies. According to the Center for the Study of the Drone, Ohio is among the top states to receive former military robots, with only California receiving more transfers.

It's worth repeating that these robots are not designed to be weapons, but rather to search for and dispose of bombs and other threats. Cleveland Police say that's how they plan to use the robots at the Republican convention, but some still worry that a deadly genie was let out of a bottle in Dallas and will remain permanently liberated.