Terry in the Age of Automated Police Officers
39 Pages Posted: 17 Dec 2019 Last revised: 24 Jun 2021
Date Written: December 17, 2019
Robots are now commonplace tools for law enforcement. The current generation of police robots is largely limited to remote-controlled robots that are designed to perform specific tasks, such as search and rescue drones and bomb disposal robots. However, the use of robots in law enforcement is likely to increase dramatically in the near future, since robots provide numerous benefits to police departments, including greater efficiency, increased capability, and enhanced safety for human officers. Therefore, in the near future, law enforcement agencies will begin to deploy semi-autonomous robots for two primary and interrelated functions: surveillance and patrol.
These new machines will dramatically increase the number of interactions between civilians and police robots, which will force courts to reconsider the rules of engagement for when police confront suspects. Many of the existing rules give the police broad powers to search or use force in order to protect officer safety; however, if no human police officer is on the scene, there is no justification for these broad powers.
Specifically, although semi-autonomous police robots will be permitted to conduct Terry stops (and will likely be more accurate in determining reasonable suspicion), they will not be permitted to conduct a frisk. These robots will also not be permitted to conduct protective sweeps of homes when making an arrest, nor engage in a protective search of a car during a traffic stop, and their power to conduct a search incident to an arrest will be limited. Courts will also need to revisit the use-of-force rules when applying them to robot police officers; these machines will almost never be permitted to use deadly force, and their use of non-deadly force will be strictly curtailed. The result will be an increase in visual surveillance — as more robot police with enhanced sensory capabilities are deployed — but a decrease in physical surveillance and physical altercations between police and civilians.
Keywords: Terry, Terry stops, robot police, automated police, fourth amendment, technology, seizures, use of force, use of deadly force
JEL Classification: K14
Suggested Citation: Suggested Citation