San Francisco will not allow police to use lethal robot force after all

The San Francisco Board of Supervisors has decided to put the brakes on the controversial policy after criticism from civil rights groups.

The surprise turnaround came during the policy’s second hearing, which would typically be a formality for new legislation to pass.

This time, the city’s legislators took it as an opportunity to reverse their last week’s decision which authorized police to use lethal robot force – and temporarily ban it instead.

The measure would have allowed the San Francisco Police Department to kill suspects with robots in case of an “imminent” threat to members of the public or officers.

City supervisors approved the policy in a vote of eight to three last week, with critics decrying it as a “dystopian” move that could further marginalize disadvantaged communities.

The 11-member board now voted unanimously to pause the proposal, and the majority decided to send the policy back for review.

In theory, it means that police could still be allowed to use robots to kill in certain circumstances in the future, but for now, it is a win for the opponents of the proposal.

“This is a crucial change that will make us all safer,” Supervisor Dean Preston, who voted against the policy last week, tweeted after the vote. He and other dissenting board members joined a city hall protest ahead of the secondary vote to call for the policy's reversal.

In an open letter to the city board, a coalition of 44 local civil and human rights organizations warned that the proposal is “an expansion of police power that history and common sense demonstrates will endanger lives needlessly.”

The San Francisco Public Defender’s Office also voiced its opposition to the policy that was proposed following a new California law that requires police departments in the state to inventory military-grade equipment and seek approval for its use.

A similar proposal was made in Oakland in October. Following public outrage, it was scrapped within a week.

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