San Francisco authorities proposed a new “dystopian” policy heading for approval next week that would license department robots to kill suspects who threaten the lives of citizens and police officers in the crime-ridden city.
San Francisco Police Department (SFPD) drafted the blueprint for officers to use its military-style weapons, which includes 17 remote-controlled robots available in its inventory that are typically used for defusing bombs or surveilling areas too difficult for authorities to access.
“Robots will only be used as a deadly force option when risk of loss of life to members of the public or officers is imminent and outweighs any other force option available to SFPD,” the policy reads.
The proposal also authorizes authorities to use the robots for “training and simulations, criminal apprehensions, critical incidents, exigent circumstances, executing a warrant or during suspicious device assessments.”
SFPD Officer Eve Laokwansathitaya told The Verge the department has always had the ability to use lethal force when a suspect threatens the lives of officers or members of the public after all other force options are unavailable.
“SFPD does not have any sort of specific plan in place as the unusually dangerous or spontaneous operations where SFPD’s need to deliver deadly force via robot would be a rare and exceptional circumstance,” Laokwansathitaya said.
SFPD Officer Robert Rueca told Mission Local the department has never used robots to attack anyone.
The San Francisco Board of Supervisors has reviewed the policy over the last several weeks.
Supervisor Aaron Peskin, who serves on the Board of Supervisors Rules Committee, attempted to add a line saying, “Robots shall not be used as a Use of Force against any person,” according to Mission Local.
But within the following week, authorities struck out the revision.
The San Francisco Board of Supervisors will meet on November 29 to discuss the issue.
Local law enforcement agencies across California started proposing plans to use military weapons after state lawmakers passed AB 481 last year. The law mandates every police force to report how authorities use military weapons such as drones, mobile command centers, and sound cannons that the United States military has supplied for years.
Under the new law, city officials can accept or reject how the weapons are used annually.
The Intercept reported last month that California’s Oakland Police Department considered allowing shotgun-equipped Remotec F5A robots to use deadly force. However, the department posted on Facebook that it decided against adding “armed remote vehicles to the department.”
While some say the law would provide more accountability and transparency to a militarized police force, opponents argue it has gone too far.
Tifanei Moyer, senior staff attorney at the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights of the San Francisco Bay Area, told Mission Local said the policy is not standard and that legal professionals and citizens should reject the idea.
“We are living in a dystopian future, where we debate whether the police may use robots to execute citizens without a trial, jury, or judge,” Moyer said.
Jennifer Tu, a fellow with the American Friends Service Committee, has watched how local law enforcement agencies are implementing the new state law.
“My suspicion is that most policies will have left room for robots to use force,” Tu told Mission Local. “There is a really big difference between hurting someone right in front of you, and hurting someone via a video screen.”
Robot maker groups like Boston Dynamic signed a pledge last month refusing to allow the weaponization of robots. “We believe that adding weapons to robots that are remotely or autonomously operated … raises new risks of harm and serious ethical issues.”