The San Francisco Board of Supervisors, in an unprecedented move, has approved using remote-controlled robots armed with deadly explosives.
The San Francisco Police Department claimed they would use such robots to breach buildings or “contact, incapacitate, or disorient violent, armed, or dangerous” suspects when lives are at stake, according to a spokesman for the department. The Board of Supervisors’ approval must now be passed in a second vote by the board and then get approved by San Francisco Mayor London Breed before the robots can be used.
“Some of the supervisors said they are concerned police will disproportionately use lethal robots on Black and other people of color,” The Week reported.
Supervisor Connie Chan stated, “According to state law, we are required to approve the use of these equipments. So here we are, and it’s definitely not a[n] easy discussion.”
But Democrat Shamann Wilson, president of the Board of Supervisors, contended, “Most law enforcement weapons are used against people of color. I’m really just stunned that we’re here talking about this.”
Only three senior police leaders have the power to authorize such actions, and they can only do so after other tactics have been attempted or the suspect cannot be subdued any other way.
Former Los Angeles Police Department Lieutenant Adam Bercovici told The Washington Post, “If I was in charge, and I had that capability, it wouldn’t be the first on my menu. But it would be an option if things were really bad.”
The Oakland Police Department had considered using similar robots but backtracked after the idea elicited harsh reaction. “The only known use of lethal robots by a U.S. police department was in Dallas in 2016, when police used a robot armed with explosives to kill a sniper who had ambushed and killed five officers,” The Week noted.
That sniper was caught in a parking garage and killed by police with a robot-operated pound of C-4 explosive, which was guided by an extending arm toward the suspect. Dallas Police Chief David Brown stated, “You have to trust your people to make the calls. We believe that we saved lives by making this decision,” adding, “I appreciate critics, but they’re not on the ground, their lives are not being put at risk by debating what tactics to take.”