Somehow the San Francisco Board of Supervisors voted 8-3 Tuesday to allow its police force to have the ability to deploy “lethal, remote controlled” robots in extreme situations, according to The Associated Press.
Many civil liberty and oversight groups objected to this motion being approved in a heated two-hour debate. Both the ACLU and San Francisco’s public defender cited concerns this tactic would be used in poor and minority neighborhoods where police have been known to be heavy-handed. They also claim the parameters under which users would be allowed were too vague. The measure requires a second vote next week and the mayor’s approval.
The SFPD owns 17 robots, 12 of which are operational. They can be used to examine and detonate explosives or carry out surveillance, as The Verge notes. SFPD spokesperson Allison Maxie stated that the department does not have pre-armed robots and has no plans to arm robots with guns. But the department could deploy robots equipped with explosive charges “to contact, incapacitate, or disorient violent, armed, or dangerous suspect” when lives are at stake.”
“There could be an extraordinary circumstance where, in a virtually unimaginable emergency, they might want to deploy lethal force to render, in some horrific situation, somebody from being able to cause further harm,” Supervisor Aaron Peskin said at the board meeting.
During the meeting, the board adopted an amendment requiring one of two high-ranking San Francisco Police Department leaders to authorize any use of a robot for lethal force. San Francisco Police Chief Bill Scott tried to reassure these robots would only be used sparingly.
“These robots would be a last resort,” he said. “If we ever have to exercise that option, it either means lives, innocent lives, have already been lost, or in the balance, and this would be the only option to neutralize that person putting those lives at risk, or the person who has taken those lives.”
However, there are still a lot of concerns. The San Francisco Chronicle noted Black people were nearly six times more likely to be stopped by police than white residents in 2020. Board president Shamann Walton voted against the measure because of the potential it could be missed towards 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. This is just one of those things.”