San Francisco Backtracks on Killer Robots


Protestor holding sign opposing robots. | Image by USA Today

The San Francisco Board of Supervisors voted to temporarily suspend a policy granting police the use of weaponized robots on December 6.

The board had passed this policy a week prior on November 29, as reported by The Dallas Express.

The San Francisco Police Department previously said it did not own or use robots outfitted with lethal force options and did not intend to fit one with a firearm. However, it wanted the possibility of using robots to exert lethal force in exceptional situations when lives were at stake and only as a last resort.

Supervisor Rafael Mandelman tweeted after the policy’s passing late last month that “in extreme circumstances, it is conceivable that use of a robot might be the best and only way of dealing with a terrorist or mass shooter.”

“These robots have been used by SFPD since 2010, and have never been used to deliver lethal force. There is only one instance on record of a law enforcement robot being used to kill someone, in 2016 when Dallas Police used a robot to kill a sniper who had shot five officers,” said Mandelman, noting that opponents’ remarks against the policy were “hyperbole.”

Indeed, some citizens protested outside of San Francisco City Hall on December 5 after the policy was passed. Demonstrators carried a banner that said, “We all saw that movie … No killer robots.”

The board suspended the policy on a vote of 8-3. Supervisors Mandelman, Catherine Stefani, and Matt Dorsey dissented in the vote, insisting that the board follow through with the policy.

Supervisors Gordon Mar, Myrna Melgar, Connie Chan, Aaron Peskin, and Ahsha Safai, who each previously voted in favor of the policy, voted on December 6 to send it back to the rules committee for changes.

For his part, Mar tweeted on December 5 that he had become uncomfortable with his previous vote to pass the policy given the precedent it sets for other cities.

“I do not think removing the immediacy and humanity of taking a life and putting it behind a remote control is a reasonable step for a municipal police force. I do not think robots with lethal force will make us safer, or prevent or solve crimes,” said Mar.

The Dallas Police Department added a drone unit at the start of this year, fueling some privacy concerns among the public.

In the case of San Francisco, the rules committee will continue to review the policy and make adjustments before it is brought before the board again.

The Dallas Express will be publishing a series of articles in the coming month detailing the use of drones and robots by local municipalities.

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1 month ago

Hey! We had killer robots first!!! The scum that murdered 5 officers in Dallas on 7-7-16 was taken out by robot with a bomb! Best decision Chief Brown made.