San Francisco approves use of police robots with lethal capabilities

Following an emotionally charged debate that revealed splits on the politically left board over support for law enforcement, San Francisco’s supervisors decided on Tuesday to grant municipal police the ability to use potentially lethal, remote-controlled robots in emergency scenarios.

8 out of 3 people voted in favor of giving police the option, overriding the vocal opposition of civil liberties and other police oversight organizations. The powers, according to opponents, would further militarize a police force that is already overly hostile toward poor and minority populations.

Supervisor Aaron Peskin noted the uproar at the beginning of the hearing, saying the robots “speak to fears about a dystopian robot killing future,” according to CBS San Francisco. “I understand the concern and fear that that can evoke in our society,” Peskin said.

Member of the committee that submitted the motion to the full board, supervisor Connie Chan said she understood concerns about using 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 an easy discussion.”

SFPD still has no specific plan on how to use the robots

According to the San Francisco Police Department, there are no robots that are already armed and there are no plans to arm robots with weapons. However, if lives are at risk, the agency may send out robots armed with explosive charges “to contact, incapacitate, or disorient violent, armed, or dangerous suspect,” according to SFPD spokesman Allison Maxie.

“Robots equipped in this manner would only be used in extreme circumstances to save or prevent further loss of innocent lives,” she said.

Supervisors changed the proposal on Tuesday to state that cops could only deploy robots after using de-escalation or alternative force techniques, or after determining that they would not be able to subdue the suspect using those techniques.

Robot use as a form of lethal force could only be approved by a small group of senior authorities.