San Francisco police offer to use deadly robots

The San Francisco Police Department (SFPD) has sought permission from the city’s board of supervisors to deploy robots that would kill suspects.

According to a draft policy(Opens in a new window)the SFPD proposes to use its remote-controlled robots for “training and simulations, criminal arrests, critical incidents, urgent circumstances, the execution of a warrant or during expertise of suspicious devices”.

The San Francisco Board of Supervisors is expected to vote on the policy proposal next week.

If authorized, the SFPD would use the robots to kill people “when the risk of death to members of the public or officers is imminent and outweighs any other option of force available”.

The police department currently has 17 remote-controlled robots, but only 12 are working. The Verge notes that robots are primarily used to defuse bombs or process hazardous materials. The Department’s Remotec F5A models and the QinetiQ Talon can be adapted to hold weapons. The US military currently uses(Opens in a new window) the QintetiQ Talon and the grenade launcher and machine gun team.

The Verge reported(Opens in a new window) that the original version of the draft had no mention of lethal force until a member of the city’s board of supervisors added that “robots should not be used as a use of force against anyone”.

The SFPD then responded by deleting the sentence(Opens in a new window) to insert a statement justifying the use of lethal force by robots in the event of imminent danger, according to local mission.

The request prompted a significant backlash from civil rights advocates and organizations, Tifanei Moyer, senior counsel for the San Francisco Bay Area Civil Rights Lawyers Committee, writing in an email read by local mission: “We live in a dystopian future, where we debate whether the police can use robots to execute citizens without trial, jury or judge.”

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Strongly criticizing the proposal, she added: “This is not normal. No legal professional or ordinary resident should carry on as if it were normal.

The proposal, if successful, would not, however, greenlight the first use of a deadly robot by a US police force. In 2016, the Dallas Police Department used a bomb disposal robot(Opens in a new window) armed with an explosive device to kill a suspect(Opens in a new window) who shot and killed five police officers and injured several others. The robot was the same Remotec F5A model belonging to the SFPD.

And last month, The Intercept revealed(Opens in a new window) that the Oakland Police Department in California was also considering allowing its Remotec robots to use deadly force via shotguns. After the report’s backlash, the Oakland PD announced a U-turn on those plans(Opens in a new window) in a Facebook post.

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