San Francisco police to soon deploy robots that can kill

The organization says the machines would only be used in extreme situations where lives are at stake.
Loukia Papadopoulos
Police officers using a mechanical robot unit.
Police officers using a mechanical robot unit.


Supervisors in San Francisco voted Tuesday to allow city police to use potentially lethal remote-controlled robots in emergency situations, according to a report by Mission Local.

The vote was eight for three against, with opponents saying the move would lead to the further dangerous and unwanted militarization of a police force already too aggressive with minorities.

A dystopian future?

“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,” said to Mission Local Tifanei Moyer, senior staff attorney at the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights of the San Francisco Bay Area.

“This is not normal,” she wrote over email. “No legal professional or ordinary resident should carry on as if it is normal.”

However, supervisor Connie Chan revealed she had taken all concerns under consideration but that “according to state law, we are required to approve the use of these equipments. So here we are, and it’s definitely not an easy discussion.”

Extreme measures

In a statement, the San Francisco Police Department responded to the controversial conversation by saying that it does not currently have pre-armed robots but that it could deploy robots equipped with explosive charges “to contact, incapacitate, or disorient violent, armed, or dangerous suspects” when situations call for such extreme measures.

“Robots equipped in this manner would only be used in extreme circumstances to save or prevent further loss of innocent lives,” further noted the statement.

San Francisco police to soon deploy robots that can kill
The new police robots would be remote-controlled

In addition, very few high-ranking officers would have permission to authorize use of robots as a deadly force option, limiting the mass deployment of such extreme tactics.

A dangerous force?

Supervisor Rafael Mandelman, who voted in favor of the new authorization, expressed concern over statements made during the deliberation that the police department was untrustworthy and dangerous.

“I think there’s larger questions raised when progressives and progressive policies start looking to the public like they are anti-police,” he said. “I think that is bad for progressives. I think it’s bad for this Board of Supervisors. I think it’s bad for Democrats nationally.”

Board President Shamann Walton, who voted against the new law, responded to these comments by explaining that he was not anti-police, but “pro people of color.”

“We continuously are being asked to do things in the name of increasing weaponry and opportunities for negative interaction between the police department and people of color,” he said. “This is just one of those things.”

The San Francisco Police Department currently counts 17 robots in its arsenal, 12 of which are described as fully functional. So far, the machines have never been used to attack anyone, rather focusing on investigating and defusing potential bombs or surveilling areas deemed too dangerous for officers to physically enter.

The new proposal would expand these uses to “training and simulations, criminal apprehensions, critical incidents, exigent circumstances, executing a warrant or during suspicious device assessments.” Will these new case uses lead to more peaceful societies, or will they aggravate tense situations leading to potential accidents?




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