Supervisors in San Francisco: The San Francisco Board of Supervisors voted 8-3 Tuesday night to approve a controversial policy that would allow police to deploy robots capable of using lethal force in extraordinary circumstances.
The vote happened after a heated debate about a policy that would let officers use ground-based robots to kill “when there is an imminent risk of death to members of the public or officers and officers cannot stop the threat after using alternative force options or de-escalation tactics,” according to the ordinance text. The measure still requires a second vote next week and the mayor’s approval, the San Francisco Board of Supervisor’s office told CNN.
Supervisor Aaron Peskin said at a board meeting, “There could be an extraordinary situation where, in an almost unimaginable emergency, they might want to use deadly force to stop someone from doing more harm in a terrible situation.” But Supervisors Dean Preston, Hillary Ronen, and Shamann Walton voted against the policy.
Preston said at the meeting, “This military-grade technology could be used and abused in bad ways, and there is no proof that it is needed.” In the end, the board passed an amendment during the meeting that says any use of lethal force by a robot must be approved by one of two high-level San Francisco Police Department leaders. CNN has asked for a copy of the meeting minutes from the Board of Supervisors.
Robert Rueca, a spokesman for the police, told the Washington Post that the department has a fleet of robots and has no plans to give them guns. But he said that explosives could be added to the robots to break through fortified structures, or that the robots could be used to “contact, incapacitate, or disorient” a dangerous suspect without putting an officer’s life at risk. In an interview with CNN on Wednesday, San Francisco Police Chief Bill Scott said that the robots’ ability to kill would only be used in the worst cases.
He said, “These robots would be a last resort.” “If we ever have to use that option, it means that innocent lives have been lost or are in danger, and this is the only way to stop the person who is putting those lives in danger or has already taken them.”
Scott said that specially trained officers operate the robots from afar. He said, “Our officers who are trained to run these robots are very well-trained and good at what they do.” He also said that the robots are neither “self-aware” nor “pre-programmed.”
Scott says that the ordinance passed by the board of supervisors says that only officers with the rank of deputy, assistant chief, or chief of police will be able to give permission to use deadly force with the robots.
He said about the robots, “I just want to say again and again that we already have the equipment.” “We’ve never had to use it that way, and I hope we never have to. But we need to have the option to save lives if something like that happens in our city.
Scott said the technology could be particularly helpful in order to apprehend suspects in mass shootings without putting officers’ lives in danger. “These events, these mass killings, are all too common,” he said. “And God forbid one happens here, we just need to give our officers the tools to do their jobs.”
Scott referenced a state law passed in 2021 that requires police departments to seek approval from the government bodies that oversee them before fundraising for, acquiring, or using military equipment.
“What we are doing and what we trying to do by law is be transparent about how we could use this equipment,” he said. “We don’t want it to be a secret to anybody. We have nothing to hide.”
It has been widely reported that the first known example of US law enforcement using a robot to deploy lethal force was in 2016, when Dallas police killed an armed suspect accused of fatally shooting five police officers by detonating an explosive device placed on a bomb squad robot sent to where the suspect had taken shelter.
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