Following a board vote on Tuesday, San Francisco’s politically Democratic supervisors allowed police to use potentially lethal, remote-controlled robots in emergency scenarios.
SFPD will have access to seven robots built to neutralize and dispose of bombs and offer video reconnaissance for operators, according to city supervisor Rafael Mandelman. None of the robots will be equipped with weapons, but according to Mandelman, in dire circumstances, they might be commanded to use lethal force.
He stated on Twitter that under this policy, SFPD is authorized to employ these robots to use deadly force in extremely limited circumstances when the risk to members of the public or officers’ loss of life is immediate and surpasses any other force choice available.
According to Mandelman, there are fair constraints on the use of robots. Thus, he supports the approach. Others, though, disagree. Hillary Ronen, Shamann Walton, and Dean Preston, according to Supervisor Hillary Ronen, dissented from arming the robots.
“Beyond disappointed that the Board seems poised to allow SFPD to use weaponized robots to use force against human beings. Only 4 of us clearly against. Shortsighted, dangerous, sad. The spirit of the SF I have always admired is weeping today,” she stated.
The 11-member San Francisco Board of Supervisors was urged by police oversight organizations to reject the proposal because it would further militarize a police department that is already overly harsh toward poor and minority areas. They claimed the conditions under which use would be permitted were too vague.
According to the San Francisco Police Department, there are no robots that are already armed, and there are no plans to arm robots with weapons. However, when lives are at risk, the police may send out robots armed with explosive charges to confront, incapacitate, or disorient belligerent, armed, or dangerous suspects, according to SFPD spokesperson Allison Maxie in a prepared statement.
Robots outfitted in this way, according to her, would only be employed in dire situations to save or stop the loss of further innocent lives.
The proposed regulation leaves open the possibility of arming the weapons by not specifying how they can and cannot be equipped. Robots will only be employed as a lethal option when the risk of loss of life to members of the public or officers is imminent and outweighs all other forms of force that the SFPD may employ, according to the policy.
The vote is in accordance with a recent state law in California that mandates that police and sheriff’s departments inventory military-grade equipment and get authorization before using it. According to the department, San Francisco police presently have twelve operational ground robots that are used to examine bombs or act as eyes in dimly light environments. They were bought in the years 2010 through 2017.
San Francisco police clarified that it would not arm robots with guns. Instead, they would be equipped with explosives. https://t.co/u9h2SDPwOO
— KRON4 News (@kron4news) November 29, 2022
David Chiu, the city attorney for San Francisco, wrote the state bill last year while serving in the assembly. The Act aims to provide the public with a platform and a voice in the purchase and use of military-grade weapons that have a harmful impact on communities.
San Francisco police did not immediately answer an inquiry about how the robots were obtained, but a federal program has provided local law enforcement with armored vehicles, bayonets, camouflage outfits, grenade launchers, and other surplus military gear.
After Barack Obama scaled back the Pentagon program in 2015, in part due to criticism over the use of military equipment during riots in Ferguson, Missouri, following the shooting death of Michael Brown, then-President Donald Trump issued an order restarting it in 2017.
San Francisco, like many other cities across the country, is working to strike a balance between important civil liberties like the right to privacy and the freedom from overbearing police surveillance. Supervisors approved a trial run in September that would give police limited access to private security camera feeds in real-time.
Supervisors who dissented expressed shock that a community that valued activism, diversity, and privacy would even consider handing law enforcement such authority.
Giving police “the ability to kill community members remotely,” according to a letter the San Francisco Public Defender’s office addressed to the Board on Monday, runs counter to San Francisco’s progressive ideals. The public defender’s office is requesting that the Board reinstate the clause that forbids the use of robots by law enforcement as a display of force against anyone.
After receiving criticism from the public, the Oakland Police Department across the San Francisco Bay abandoned a similar plan.
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