State Watch

San Francisco supervisors halt plan to allow police robots to use lethal force

FILE – Diana Scott holds up a sign while taking part in a demonstration about the use of robots by the San Francisco Police Department outside of City Hall in San Francisco, Monday, Dec. 5, 2022. San Francisco supervisors have voted to put the brakes on a controversial policy that would let police use robots for deadly force. The Board of Supervisors voted Tuesday to send the issue back to a committee for further discussion. (AP Photo/Jeff Chiu, File)

The San Francisco Board of Supervisors voted on Tuesday to halt a plan to allow police robots to use lethal force following a backlash. 

The board voted unanimously to pause the plan for now, but sent the issue back to committee for discussion and may vote to allow it in limited cases in the future. 

The supervisors previously voted 8-3 to use potentially lethal, remote-controlled robots in emergency situations, despite opposition from civil liberties and police oversight groups. 

Opponents to the proposal argued that it would further militarize a police force that they say is already overly aggressive in responding to poor and minority communities. 

The police department said after the first vote that it did not plan to give the robots firearms but wanted to be able to put explosives on them to be used to contact, incapacitate or disorient dangerous or armed suspects when others’ lives were at risk. 

Robot technology for police work has become more available recently, but departments have rarely used it to confront or kill suspects. 

Supervisor Dean Preston told his colleagues on Tuesday that the public was not given enough time to comment on the issue. 

“The people of San Francisco have spoken loud and clear: There is no place for killer police robots in our city,” he said in a statement after the board voted. “We should be working on ways to decrease the use of force by local law enforcement, not giving them new tools to kill people.” 

Preston and the two other supervisors who voted against the proposal initially joined protesters at City Hall on Monday to push the board to reverse its decision. Some held signs saying, “We all saw that movie… No Killer Robots.” 

Police in Oakland, Calif., had floated the idea of using robots armed with shotguns, but instead turned to pepper spray following pushback. 

The San Francisco board’s vote still allows police to send robots to examine potentially dangerous situations so officers can stay back. 

The updated policy needs to be voted on again to take effect, as legislation needs to be approved during a first reading and a final reading at least five days apart from each other. 

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

Tags Board of Supervisors deadly force killer robots militarization police robots San Francisco
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