San Francisco police seek permission to give robots license to kill

WHAT YOU NEED TO KNOW:


  • The San Francisco Police Department submitted a proposal that would allow police robots to use deadly force in dangerous situations.
  • The Rules Committee unanimously approved that draft and advanced it to the full Board of Supervisors for a vote on November 29th.
  • Though most of SFPD’s robots are primarily used for defusing bombs, its new Remotec models have an optional weapons system.

The San Francisco Police Department is currently seeking permission from the city’s Board of Supervisors to deploy robots to use deadly force.

The draft policy states that if law enforcement deems a sufficient threat that the “risk of loss of life to members of the public or officers is imminent and outweighs any other force option available to SFPD” then robot police can kill the suspect.

The draft written by the SFPD also seeks to exclude “hundreds of assault rifles from its inventory of military-style weapons and for not include personnel costs in the price of its weapons,” according to a report from Mission Local.  

The proposal has already seen significant opposition from both within and outside the Board. Supervisor Aaron Peskin, who chairs the three-member Rules Committee, initially pushed back against the use of force requirements.

“Robots shall not be used as a Use of Force against any person,” Peskin said.

The SFPD removed that wording in a subsequent draft. The Rules Committee unanimously approved that draft and advanced it to the full Board of Supervisors for a vote on November 29th. Peskin defended his decision by claiming that “there could be scenarios where deployment of lethal force was the only option.”

The police force currently maintains a dozen fully-functional remote-controlled robots, which are typically used for area inspections and bomb disposal. However, as the Dallas PD showed in 2016, they make excellent bomb delivery platforms as well. Bomb disposal units are often equipped with blank shotgun shells used to forcibly disrupt an explosive device’s internal workings. Though there is nothing stopping police from using live rounds if needed, as Oakland police recently acknowledged to its city’s civilian oversight board. 

While San Francisco has never explicitly allowed robots to take human lives, lethal autonomous weapons (LAWs), are increasingly common in modern warfare. Now, the SFPD wants to wield that same life-and-death power over San Francisco’s civilians.

Most of SFPD’s robots are primarily used for defusing bombs or dealing with hazardous materials, but recent Remotec models have an optional weapons system. The department’s existing F5A also has a tool called the PAN disruptor that can load 12-gauge shotgun shells. It’s typically used to detonate bombs from a distance.

The SFPD’s QinetiQ Talon can also be modified to hold various weapons. Currently, the US Army is using a weaponized version of the robot which can equip grenade launchers, machine guns, or even a .50-caliber anti-materiel rifle.

The SFPD regularly costs the city six-figure settlements for its excessive use of force and actively opposes investigations into its affinity for baton-based beatings.

Source: The Verge

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