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San Francisco Police Authorized to Deploy Robots That Kill

San Francisco supervisors voted to give city police the ability to use potentially lethal, remote-controlled robots in emergency situations, reports the Associated Press. The vote was 8-3, with the majority agreeing to grant police the option despite strong objections from civil liberties and other police oversight groups. Opponents argued that the authority would lead to the further militarization of a police force already too aggressive against poor and minority communities. Supervisor Connie Chan, a member of the committee that forwarded the proposal to the full board, said she understood concerns over use of force but “according to state law, we are required to approve the use of these equipments. So here we are, and it’s definitely not a easy discussion.” The San Francisco Police Department said it does not have pre-armed robots and has no plans to arm robots with guns. However, the department could deploy robots equipped with explosive charges “to contact, incapacitate, or disorient violent, armed, or dangerous suspect” when lives are at stake, said police spokesperson Allison Maxie.


Supervisors amended the proposal Tuesday to specify that officers could use robots only after using alternative force or de-escalation tactics, or concluding they would not be able to subdue the suspect through those alternative means. Only a limited number of high-ranking officers could authorize the use of robots as a deadly force option. Currently, San Francisco police have a dozen functioning ground robots used to assess bombs or provide eyes in low visibility situations. They were acquired between 2010 and 2017, and not once have they been used to deliver an explosive device. Explicit authorization was required after a new California law went into effect this year requiring police and sheriff's departments to inventory military-grade equipment and seek approval for their use. On Monday, The San Francisco Public Defender’s office told the board that granting police “the ability to kill community members remotely” goes against the city’s progressive values. The office wanted the board to reinstate language barring police from using robots against any person in an act of force.

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