San Francisco officials voted unanimously Tuesday against a controversial policy that would have let police use robots for deadly force, reversing course days after initial approval of the policy sparked public outcry.
The policy: The legislation would have allowed police to use remote-controlled robots for deadly force “when risk of loss of life to members of the public or officers is imminent and outweighs any other force option available,” according to the draft policy.
A reversal: Tuesday’s vote came a week after the San Francisco Board of Supervisors previously voted 8-3 to approve the policy, moving to give city police the option to use the robots for deadly force in emergency situations.
Before the vote last week, supervisors amended the proposal to specify that officers could only use the robots after trying alternative force or de-escalation tactics, and that only a limited number of high-ranking officers could authorize their use.
LAST WEEK’S VOTE:San Francisco will allow police to deploy robots that kill ‘in extreme circumstances’
Why would police use killer robots?
Robots would allow police to scope out potentially dangerous scenes while officers stay back, police officials said.
The San Francisco Police Department has previously said it had no plans to arm the robots with guns and only wanted to be able to put explosives on them in order to use them “to contact, incapacitate, or disorient violent, armed, or dangerous suspects” when lives are at stake, police spokesperson Allison Maxie said in a statement.
“Robots equipped in this manner would only be used in extreme circumstances to save or prevent further loss of innocent lives,” she said.
The San Francisco Police Department did not immediately respond to a USA TODAY request for comment.
‘Killer robots’ spark outcry
The board’s initial vote in favor of the policy sparked public outcry, including from civil liberties and other police groups that raised alarm bells over the further militarization of the police and potential disproportionate harm to communities of color and other marginalized communities.
Dozens of protesters opposing the policy gathered outside City Hall last week, chanting and holding signs with phrases such as “We all saw that movie … No Killer Robots.” Among them was Supervisor Dean Preston.
“The people of San Francisco have spoken loud and clear: There is no place for killer police robots in our city,” Preston said in a statement. “We should be working on ways to decrease the use of force by local law enforcement, not giving them new tools to kill people.”
In a Twitter statement, Supervisor Hillary Ronen said “common sense prevailed” after the reversal from last week’s vote.
Vote results from new state law
The vote resulted from a new state law requiring police and sheriff’s departments to inventory military-grade equipment and seek approval for their use. The law aims at giving the public a voice in the use of military-grade weapons in their communities.
San Francisco police currently have a dozen functioning ground robots that were acquired from 2010 to 2017, according to police officials.
San Francisco’s charter requires the San Francisco Board of Supervisors to vote on the same legislation twice, so the new policy will return to them for another vote next week.
Mayor London Breed would then have to sign off on the measure within 10 days.
However, while the board voted unanimously to ban the use of robots for deadly force for now, they sent the measure to a committee for further discussion and could re-evaluate the policy in the future.
Contributing: The Associated Press
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