Sun | Jan 29, 2023

San Francisco will allow police to deploy robots that kill

Published:Wednesday | November 30, 2022 | 11:10 AM
San Francisco Police Chief Bill Scott answers questions during a news conference in San Francisco, on May 21, 2019. The Democratic San Francisco Board of Supervisors could allow police to use potentially lethal, remote-controlled robots in emergency situations. The 11-member board will vote Tuesday, November 29, 2022, on a controversial proposal opposed by civil rights advocates critical of the militarization of police. (AP Photo/Eric Risberg, File)

SAN FRANCISCO (AP) — Supervisors in San Francisco voted Tuesday to give city police the ability to use potentially lethal, remote-controlled robots in emergency situations -- following an emotionally charged debate that reflected divisions on the politically liberal board over support for law enforcement.

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 said the authority would lead to the further militaristic of a police force already too aggressive with 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 that “according to state law, we are required to approve the use of these equipment. So here we are, and it's definitely not an easy discussion.”

The San Francisco Police Department said it does not have pre-armed robots and has no plans to arm robots with guns.

But the department could deploy robots equipped with explosive charges “to contact, incapacitate, or disorient violent, armed, or dangerous suspect” when lives are at stake, SFPD spokesperson Allison Maxie said in a statement.

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

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 authorise use of robots as a deadly force option.

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