San Francisco curbs controversial use of licensed police robots to kill

The controversial measure that would have allowed police to use licensed robots to kill has stalled by the wayside.

NewsEditor
NewsEditor
07 December 2022 Wednesday 05:31
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San Francisco curbs controversial use of licensed police robots to kill

The controversial measure that would have allowed police to use licensed robots to kill has stalled by the wayside. The plan was approved last week by San Francisco supervisors, but was due for another vote on Tuesday, which it failed to pass. In this way, the course of a policy that has generated strong criticism is reversed due to the fear that it will lead to a greater militarization of law enforcement officers. The police are already in the crosshairs for being very aggressive towards poor and minority communities.

The Californian city's board of supervisors voted unanimously Tuesday to explicitly ban the use of robots for now. But they sent the issue back to a committee for further discussion, which could end in a new vote, perhaps changing the terms of its implementation.

The board voted last week to use remote-controlled, potentially lethal robots in emergency situations, "when officers and other citizens are at imminent risk of life and provided they cannot first abort the threat using other alternatives of force or tactics to de-escalate the tension".

The police department then explained that it had no plans to arm the robots with weapons, but did want to be able to attach explosives to them and use them to contact, incapacitate or disorient dangerous suspects.

The initial vote thrust the heavily liberal city into a heated and emotional debate over technology that reflected division over support from security forces. Some said that building robots was a step too close to something one would see in a dystopian sci-fi movie.

Supervisor Dean Preston told colleagues on Tuesday that citizens had not been given enough time to voice their concerns on such a sensitive matter. "The people of San Francisco have spoken loud and clear: There is no place for killer police robots in our city," he said in a statement after the vote. "We should be working on ways to lessen the use of force by local law enforcement, without giving them new tools to kill people," he added.

The case illustrates a matter that came to light in 2016. The Dallas (Texas) police were forced to improvise a solution due to the action of sniper Micah Xavier Johnson, who set a trap for the uniformed officers. Five died. Unable to approach the gunman, the police seized a robot loaded with an explosive to approach the shooter, who died in the detonation.

So far, only San Francisco and Oakland, both in California, have opened up the robot deployment debate.

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