San Francisco’s Board of Supervisors has approved a proposal to allow police to use robots to kill suspects in some emergency scenarios.
The idea of “killer robots” was attacked by many, including attorney Tifanei Moyer of the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights, according to Mission Local.
“We are living in a dystopian future, where we debate whether the police may use robots to execute citizens without a trial, jury, or judge,” she told the outlet in an email. “This is not normal. No legal professional or ordinary resident should carry on as if it is normal.”
Supervisor Dean Preston was among those strongly opposed to the plan.
“If police shouldn’t be trusted with tasers, they sure as hell shouldn’t be entrusted with killer robots,” he said during the meeting Tuesday, according to Christine Mai-Duc of The Wall Street Journal.
Words spoken by @DeanPreston at today’s SFBOS meeting: “If police shouldn’t be trusted with tasers, they sure as hell shouldn’t be entrusted with killer robots.”
— Christine Mai-Duc (@cmaiduc) November 29, 2022
The San Francisco Police Department explained that the idea isn’t to create a corps of robotic Dirty Harrys to patrol the streets. It said it did not have pre-armed robots and had no plans to arm robots with guns, according to the AP.
However, the department’s 12 robots might carry explosives “to contact, incapacitate, or disorient violent, armed, or dangerous suspect” when lives are at stake, SFPD representative 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.
The proposal said robots could be a “remotely controlled unmanned machine that operates on the ground, which is utilized to enhance the safety of the community and officers by providing ground support and situational awareness for law enforcement operations.”
If a police officer’s life is in danger during a situation, the robot would be allowed to use deadly force.
“The robots listed in this section shall not be utilized outside of training and simulations, criminal apprehensions, critical incidents, exigent circumstances, executing a warrant or during suspicious device assessments,” the proposal said.
“Robots will only be used as a deadly force option when risk of loss of life to members of the public or officers is imminent and outweighs any other force option available to SFPD,” it said.
According to the AP, supervisors amended it 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 authorize use of robots as a deadly force option.”
Supervisor Rafael Mandelman, who supported the proposal, said the anti-police rhetoric that emerged in the debate was troubling.
“I think there’s larger questions raised when progressives and progressive policies start looking to the public like they are anti-police,” he said, according to the AP. “I think that is bad for progressives. I think it’s bad for this Board of Supervisors. I think it’s bad for Democrats nationally.”
Board President Shamann Walton, who opposed the plan, said he was not anti-police but “pro people of color.”
“We continuously are being asked to do things in the name of increasing weaponry and opportunities for negative interaction between the police department and people of color,” he said. “This is just one of those things.”
Supervisor Dean Preston called the proposal “a terrible idea.”
But there’s a reason why SFPD thinks they can get away with this, and that’s because the City has repeatedly written blank checks to the department with no accountability and little oversight. I will not be supporting the policy as currently written. 2/2
— Dean Preston (@DeanPreston) November 28, 2022
Mandelman, who serves on the rules committee that approved the draft policy, said it makes sense, according to the San Francisco Chronicle.
“Given what we’ve seen with school shootings and terrorism and the realities of the 21st century, I think we absolutely should have the most advanced technology to deal with those kinds of threat, and this is what that is,” he said.
When a politician is on a tweet tirade spreading lies, you can bet he’s trying to whip up panic to distract from his poor job performance. Either @deanpreston actually believes in “killer robots,” or he’s not smart enough to understand the policy. https://t.co/2iGFkPkUMx pic.twitter.com/Sjf4JPdyEX
— San Francisco POA (@SanFranciscoPOA) November 29, 2022
Eve Laokwansathitaya, an officer with the San Francisco Police Department, said robots would be used in rare circumstances.
“SFPD has always had the ability to use lethal force when the risk of loss of life to members of the public or officers are imminent and outweigh any other force option available,” Laokwansathitaya told the Verge.
“SFPD does not have any sort of specific plan in place as the unusually dangerous or spontaneous operations where SFPD’s need to deliver deadly force via robot would be a rare and exceptional circumstance.”
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