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San Francisco’s Board of Supervisors voted on Tuesday night to allow the San Francisco Police Department (SFPD) to use remote-controlled and potentially lethal robots in emergency situations. The board voted 8-3 in favor of giving police the option to deploy robots as a last resort in emergency situations.
Tuesday night, the board added language to the proposal to specify that officers can only use such robots after using alternative force, de-escalation tactics or deciding that the subject wouldn’t be subdued using these alternative means. Even then, only a few high-ranking officers can authorize the use of robots for deadly force.
This will allow officers to use ground-based robots to kill “when risk of loss of life to members of the public or officers is imminent and officers cannot subdue the threat after using alternative force options or de-escalation tactics.”
The vote followed an over two-hour-long debate, with opponents of the measure voicing concerns about further militarization of San Francisco’s police force, which civil liberties and other police oversight groups said was already too aggressive with poor and minority communities.
Proponents of the measure, however, said using robots in extreme situations can keep more police officers safe by taking them out of deadly situations. Some said it could decrease the use of deadly force, as officers often use it when they feel their lives are in danger, and a robot would remove that risk.
Currently, the San Francisco Police Department says it has no pre-armed robots and no plans to start strapping guns to robots. Instead, the department said it could equip one of its 12 functioning robots with explosive charges. According to SFPD spokesperson Allison Maxie, these robots would be used to contact, incapacitate or disorient armed or dangerous suspects.
“Robots equipped in this manner would only be used in extreme circumstances to save or prevent further loss of innocent lives,” Maxie said in a statement.
San Francisco Mayor London Breed’s office said the policy “strikes a good balance between protecting lives and establishing guardrails to prevent misuse” in a statement about the decision.