As more and more law enforcement agencies bring police robots into service, it was bound to happen.  As the Florida case notes below, a police robot was shot “in the line of duty.”  The good news is that no deputies were injured and the robot, whose video camera was shot and destroyed, took the brunt of the attack.

This case raises a number of interesting questions, such as “is shooting a police robot the same as shooting a human police officer?” While most would agree there is a difference, the case is not crystal clear.  Many other non-human police employees are protected by special laws.  For example, in California it is a felony to attack either a police dog or horse in the course of its official duty.

Penal Code Section 600

(a) Any person who willfully and maliciously and with no legal justification strikes beats, kicks, cuts, stabs, shoots with a firearm, administers any poison or other harmful or stupefying substance to, or throws, hurls, or projects at, or places any rock, object, or other substance which is used in a manner as to be capable of producing injury and likely to produce injury, on or in the path of, any horse being used by, or any dog under the supervision of, any peace officer in the discharge or attempted discharge of his or her duties, is guilty of a public offense. If the injury inflicted is a serious injury, as defined in subdivision (c), the person shall be punished by impreisonment in the state prison for 16 months, two or three years, or in a county jail for not exceeding one year, or by a fine not exceeding two thousand dollars ($2000.00), or by both a fine and imprisonment. If the injury inflicted is not a serious injury, the person shall be punished by imprisonment in the county jail for not exceeding one year, or by a fine not exceeding one thousand $(1000.00), or by both a fine and imprisonment.

Given the logic of the above law, do police robots also deserve special legal protection?  The legislative intent appears be the same.  Criminals receive enhanced punishment for attacking a police dog or horse, because the animals are under police control and thus serving a public safety function.  Additional logic would suggest that any person willing to attack a police service animal would likely also engage a human police officer–posing a significant threat to society.  As such, do police robots need protection from harm under the law?

Finally, given that police dogs have often been awarded “Medals of Valor” for their courage and dedication, should the robot in the case below be similarly honored?

Standoff ends, sheriff’s robot shot

By Nadia Ramdass, WINK News Florida

Story Updated: Oct 28, 2007 at 9:06 PM EST

Lee County, Florida, United States

“I had seen the ambulance and the police car coming,” said Joanne Maul of North Fort Myers.  One after another, Lee County Sheriff’s deputies filed into the mobile home park of Laurel Estates. They wanted to bring peace back to a community after hours of fear and uncertainty resulting from a man that barricaded himself with a gun in his home.

The "Injured" Robot Officer

“It’s frightening, it’s just plain frightening,” said Maul.

Sheriff’s deputies received a phone call Saturday afternoon about a man pointing his gun at a neighbor after an argument in the North Fort Myers mobile home park. The man retreated back to his home, refused to cooperate with law enforcement, and left the sheriff’s deputies with no other options than to bring in forces.

The SWAT team, K-9 Units, and Special Operations Negotiators were all on hand trying to get the 60 to 70-year-old-man who threatened to kill himself. At one point, a deputy and the subject confronted one another face to face, both holding a gun. Fortunately the two walked away without firing a shot. Joanne Maul a resident of the community for 17-years could not believe what she was seeing.

“We never had anything like this happen before,” said Maul.

Neighbors tell WINK News that the man ran away from his home about a month ago. They also tell WINK News that they believed the man suffered from depression because his wife left him Friday.

“I hope everybody comes out safe,” said Maul.

As night was beginning to fall, deputies stepped-up their tactics by using a bomb robot to assist. The subject shot at the robot, breaking the robot’s lens, and then deputies subdued the man.

Sheriff’s deputies tell WINK News the man was taken to the hospital to evaluate for a mental condition. They also tell WINK News the man did not take his medications for some time. Deputies say they may seek aggravated assault charges. Authorities tell us the man who was involved in the confrontation with the subject was not harmed.