San Francisco Authorizes Killer Robot Machines

In an unexpected turn of events, the San Francisco Board of Supervisors has approved a proposal that would authorize the police department to use robots for deadly force in certain circumstances. Votes were 8-3 on Tuesday to approve the draft. Long debates followed the decision over support for law enforcement.

The decision sparked strong objections from civil liberties and police oversight groups who voiced concerns about militarization and an aggressive police force on minorities. Supervisor Connie Chan responded to the protests reaffirming that state law requires approval of equipment and assuring members that the decision wasn’t easy. The San Francisco Police Department also reassured the board that the pre-armed robots would not be armed with guns.

Robots will be meant to deploy explosive charges “to contact, incapacitate, or disorient violent, armed, or dangerous suspects,” according to SFPD spokesperson Allison Maxie. Police are assuring board members and the press that the robots are only meant for extreme circumstances where the loss of life is threatened. However, Supervisors on the board did slightly amend the proposal Tuesday.

Officers will only be allowed to use robots after alternative force, and de-escalation tactics have been used. Robots will also only be available to a limited number of high-ranking officers to authorize. The SFPD currently has a dozen functioning robots to assess bombs, but they have never been used to deliver an explosive device.

When a new California law was enacted this year, all California police departments were required to inventory military-grade equipment and seek approval for use. San Francisco City Attorney David Chiu authored the state law during his time on the assembly. According to the legislation, the law gives the public a voice in using military-grade weapons that potentially affect communities.

A federal program to help local law enforcement has donated military equipment for many years, such as grenade launchers, camouflage uniforms, bayonets, and armored vehicles. The SFPD said none of the robots were obtained from the federal program. However, some were purchased via federal grant money. San Francisco only wants to balance public safety with the civilian right to privacy and excessive oversight.

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