San Francisco Board of Supervisors Approve Use of Killer Robots in Increasingly Militarized Police Department
by Jo Ellen Nott
On November 29, 2022, the city of San Francisco’s Board of Supervisors approved the use of killer robots for law enforcement. The San Francisco Police Department had previously petitioned for permission to deploy robots to kill suspects that law enforcement considers posing “a sufficient threat to the public or the police officers’ lives that the threat outweighs any other force option.”
Lethal robots such as those approved by the Board of Supervisors are roving machines that can select and shoot targets without an operator present and are highly controversial. The SFPD, itself no stranger to controversy, costs the city six-figure settlements for excessive use of force cases and stonewalls investigations into baton beatings. Now the department will wield life-and-death robotic power over San Francisco’s civilians.
Human rights organizations opposed to militarized police departments condemn the use of lethal armed robots, as did several of the SF Board of Supervisors. Supervisor Hillary Ronen wrote on Twitter after the vote: “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.”
Supervisor Rafael Mandelman supported the policy by pointing out that it was not Robocop. Mandelman believes the robots are appropriate for specific life-threatening cases and that it “would be irresponsible not to make plans to use that technology in that horrific eventuality.”
Matthew Guariglia, a policy analyst with the Electronic Frontier Foundation took the opposite view: “It’s really just opening a window that eventually somebody’s gonna wanna crawl through.” Guariglia warned that using lethal robots will shift the burden of using deadly force from pulling the trigger at the scene to pushing a button on a remote control.
San Francisco police already have 17 robots, but they are not equipped with live ammunition. The department is now considering using a robot with explosives attached to get into buildings with violent, armed suspects barricaded inside.
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