Cops will be allowed to use their unmanned vehicles against human targets if a local proposal is successful
The San Francisco Police Department is seeking permission to deploy deadly robots against human suspects, according to a policy proposal sent to city officials. While SFPD robots are primarily designed for mine clearance and surveillance, police say they can be used as a last resort “lethal force option.”
In a document outlining how the SFPD plans to use all of its military-style gear, the department wrote that “Robots will only be used as a lethal force option when the risk of death to members of the public or officers is imminent and outweighs any other force option available to the SFPD.”
City supervisors disagreed with the proposal, inserting a line stating that “Robots should not be used as a use of force against anyone.” However, when the documents were returned to the SFPD for review, the cops crossed out the line and returned the text to its original version.
The documents were released Tuesday by Mission Local, a San Francisco-based news site. Aaron Peskin, who chairs the rules committee for the San Francisco board of supervisors, told the site that although he inserted the line prohibiting lethal force, he ultimately approved the police department’s changes, such as “There could be scenarios where deploying lethal force was the only option.”
The full board will vote on the policy next Tuesday. Last month, police in neighboring Oakland removed language from a similar document that would have given them permission to use robots to kill suspects. Police departments across the state of California are submitting similar policy documents to their cities, as a state law passed last year requires them to declare their stockpiles of military weapons and define when they can be used.
According to the documents, the SFPD has 17 robots that can be used to enter buildings, handle hazardous materials, detonate explosive devices or inspect inaccessible areas. None of these devices are designed to kill, but the Dallas Police Department attached plastic explosives to a bomb disposal robot in 2016 to kill a sniper who had murdered five officers. The SFPD currently has the same robot – the Remotec F5A – in its arsenal.
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