San Francisco responded Wednesday to a question. Can the police use authorized robots to kill? The board of supervisors of the Californian city decided yes, by eight votes to three, after a heated and emotional debate that reflected the division of a markedly liberal municipality regarding the support of the security forces.
The police will have the ability to use potentially lethal, remote-controlled robots in emergency situations, “when the risk that officers and other citizens are at imminent risk of losing their lives and provided they cannot first abort the threatens using other alternatives of force or de-escalation tactics”.
The measure must pass another vote next week and then it will all be left to Mayor London Breed, who has the ability to sign the measure or reject it.
The case illustrates a matter that came to light in 2016. Then, the Dallas (Texas) police were forced to improvise a solution to the action of sniper Micah Xavier Johnson, who set a trap for the uniformed officers. Five died. After hours of a tense situation, with the agents unable to approach the gunman, the police seized a robot with an extendable tentacle loaded with an explosive that brought it closer to the gunman, who died in the detonation.
This incident fueled discussion about whether security forces should be allowed to use deadly remote-controlled devices.
The yes vote in San Francisco met with strong objections from civil rights groups and groups that monitor police actions. Opponents argue that the lethal authorization will lead to a further militarization of the police force, already very aggressive towards poor and minority communities.
Connie Chan, a member of the committee of supervisors and in favor of the permit, assured that she understood the concerns about this management, but stressed that, according to state law, "we are obliged to approve the use of this equipment, although it is not an easy discussion." ”.
The San Francisco Police Department does not have pre-armed robots and has no plans to have them. But it could deploy them with explosives "to contact, incapacitate, or disorient violent and armed dangerous suspects" and thus save lives, according to a statement from spokeswoman Allison Maxie.
"Robots equipped in this way will only be used in extreme circumstances or to prevent loss of human life," he added.