The San Francisco Board of Supervisors has passed a controversial policy that allows city police to use robots as a weapon in emergency situations.
The San Francisco Police Department (SFPD) has been granted the power to use killer robots by the city’s board in a vote of eight to three.
The policy states that police could use deadly robot force when there is “imminent” risk to members of the public or officers and when all alternative force options or de-escalation tactics have been exhausted or deemed ineffective.
A robot’s use of lethal force will require high-ranking approval from the chief of police, the assistant chief of police, or the deputy chief of special operations.
The policy was adopted after a heated debate that divided the city’s liberal supervisors, with both sides accusing each other of fear-mongering. Supervisor Dean Preston, who voted against the policy, described it as “dystopian” and “deeply disturbing.”
“Allowing police to arm remote-controlled robots on the streets of San Francisco is dangerous, and like any other weapons used by police, will place black and brown people in disproportionate danger of harm or death,” Preston said in a statement following the vote.
Supervisor Rafael Mandelman, who voted for the bill, said that “despite the hyperbole expressed by many who oppose this policy,” the SFPD had no plans to attach firearms to robots currently at its disposal.
“However, in extreme circumstances it is conceivable that use of a robot might be the best and only way of dealing with a terrorist or mass shooter,” he tweeted after the vote.
The SFPD acquired a dozen ground robots between 2010 and 2017, and none have been used to deliver lethal force so far.
The only instance nationwide when law enforcement used a robot to kill a suspect was recorded in 2016, when Dallas Police sent an armed robot to kill a sniper who had shot five officers.
The use of deadly force by robots has been neither allowed nor prohibited in San Francisco up until now. The policy that explicitly authorizes it was drafted in response to a new California law requiring police departments across the state to seek approval for military-grade equipment use.
The city of Oakland, across the San Francisco Bay, dropped a similar proposal to arm robots last month.
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