San Francisco halts police plan to allow robots to use deadly force

A new state law mandating that police departments inventory military-grade weaponry and request clearance for its use led to the supervisors’ vote.

Police in San Francisco will not allow robots to use deadly force. For now, at least.

The city’s Board of Supervisors voted Tuesday to halt the controversial policy that would let the San Francisco Police Department utilize robots for such a purpose, NPR reported. The decision is a reversal from one last week that generated widespread pushback.

Authorities claimed that while they had no intention of arming robots with weapons, they did want the option to have them use explosives in extraordinary conditions. The approved policy grants the SFPD the authority to employ robots for situational awareness, such as entering a hazardous scenario before the police do so.

A San Francisco police officer uses a robot to investigate a bomb threat there in July 2008. The city’s Board of Supervisors voted on Tuesday to halt the controversial policy that would let police utilize robots for deadly force. (Photo: Michael Macor/San Francisco Chronicle via AP)
A San Francisco police officer uses a robot to investigate a bomb threat there in July 2008. The city’s Board of Supervisors voted on Tuesday to halt the controversial policy that would let police utilize robots for deadly force. (Photo: Michael Macor/San Francisco Chronicle via AP)

San Francisco police have 17 robots, but none carry live ammunition, theGrio previously reported.

At least three supervisors voted against the deadly force proposal. The board’s president, Shamann Walton, opposed it, saying that doing so made him “pro people of color” rather than anti-police.

“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,” Walton said, theGrio reported. “This is just one of those things.”

In a series of Twitter posts last week, District 8 Supervisor Rafael Mandelman offered more details about the vote in favor of using robots in specific, life-threatening circumstances. He claimed that although the SFPD has employed robots since 2010, they’ve never used lethal force.

“This includes seven robots designed to neutralize/dispose of bombs, and provide video reconnaissance for operators,” Mandelman shared, according to theGrio.

“None of the robots have firearms attached,” he tweeted, “and SFPD has no plans to attach firearms.”

According to NPR, a new state law that mandates police departments to inventory military-grade items and request clearance for their deployment led to the initial vote.

“I think it’s totally appropriate,” Mandelman said of the now-halted policy, theGrio previously reported. “In fact, I think it would be irresponsible not to make plans to use that technology in that horrific eventuality.”

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