SAN FRANCISCO — Tuesday’s vote by San Francisco supervisors was to stop a controversial policy that would allow police to use robots for deadly force. This decision came just days after they approved the plan, which generated strong opposition and warnings about militarization of policing.
The Board of Supervisors unanimously voted to ban robots being used in this manner for now. They referred the matter to a committee for further discussion. They could vote in future to allow police to use robots in lethal situations.
Last week, the board approved the use of deadly robotics in extremely dangerous circumstances. According to the police department, it did not intend to arm the robots using guns. However, they wanted to be able to use explosives to disorient or incapacitate dangerous or armed suspects in situations where their lives are at stake.
The controversially liberal city was thrust into the middle of a debate about technology and policing. Some felt that arming robots was too similar to what one might see in a dystopian science-fiction movie. Although robot technology has been made more accessible for police, the majority of departments in the country have not used it when confronting or killing suspects.
Three supervisors who had rejected the policy at the outset joined protestors Monday outside City Hall in an effort to get the board to reconsider. They held signs that read “We all saw that film… No Killer Robots” and chanted.
Supervisor Dean Preston was one of them. On Tuesday, he informed his colleagues that the public had not been given enough time for their concerns regarding such a pressing matter.
In a statement following the vote, he stated that “the people of San Francisco have spoken out loud and clear: There’s no place for killer cop robots in our community.” “We should work on ways to reduce the force used by local police officers, and not give them new tools for killing people,” he said.
This vote was a result of a new state law, which requires police departments to keep track of equipment, including guns, grenades and armored vehicles, and to obtain explicit approval to use them. Only San Francisco and Oakland have yet to discuss lethal robots under this law. Oakland police initially wanted to arm robots using shotguns, but they resisted public pressure and instead chose pepper spray.
San Francisco officials wanted robots to be allowed to use deadly force in some cases. However, they argued that nothing had changed enough to warrant a reversal. The vote to approve the broadening of police equipment policy, including the ban against lethal robots, was unanimous.
It allows police to still use robots to inspect potentially dangerous scenes, so officers can remain back.
“Having robots with eyes, ears, and the ability to remove bombs is something we want the police to do while we continue this very controversial discussion,” stated Supervisor Aaron Peskin who presented last week’s motion regarding the use of robots.
To take effect, the new policy must be voted on again.