San Francisco considers arming law enforcement robots

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The San Francisco Board of Supervisors voted to allow police officers to use potentially lethal, remote-controlled, ground-based robots to kill “when there is a risk of loss of life to members of the public or officers and officers are unable to subdue the threat after using alternative force options or de-escalation tactics.”

However, before becoming city law, the measure must pass a second vote at a meeting next week and be approved by the mayor. At the request of the San Francisco Police Department, the policy, which was first proposed in September, was amended to include the provision allowing lethal force.

An earlier draft stated that “robots shall not be used as a Use of Force against any person,” but the SFPD deleted and replaced the line. During Tuesday’s board meeting, it was amended once more to require the approval of one of three senior police leaders.

The ACLU and San Francisco’s public defender had urged the 11-member body to reject the police’s proposal to use equipment. Opponents of the policy claimed it would further militarize a police force that was already overly aggressive with underserved communities.

They claimed that the conditions under which use would be permitted were too broad. Supporters argued that having these robots as a backup option in dangerous situations was necessary given the city’s increasing risk of a high-profile shooting.

Allison Maxie, SFPD public information officer, stated that, “the SFPD does not own or operate robots outfitted with lethal force options and the Department has no plans to outfit robots with any type of firearm.”

The sources for this piece include an article in NPR.

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