Lawmakers in San Francisco voted Tuesday to ban police robots from using deadly force, a week after officials approved the practice and sparked national outcry, the course was reversed.
The city’s Board of Supervisors voted to explicitly ban the San Francisco Police Department (SFPD) from using the 17 robots in its arsenal to kill people. However, the board also sent the matter back to a committee for further review, meaning it could later decide to allow deadly force under certain circumstances.
The turnaround came after the majority of members of the 11-member board voted last week to allow robots to be armed with explosives and used to kill people “when the risk of loss of life to members of the public or officers is imminent.” and outweighs any other power option available for SFPD”. The board had also added an amendment stating that only senior officers should authorize deadly force.
The initial decision to allow “killer robots” was met with strong criticism from civil rights groups and cast a stark light on the increasing militarization of US police forces.
Supervisors and police officials who had initially supported the use of deadly force had said the robots would only kill people in extraordinary circumstances, such as suicide bombings or active shooting situations.
Hilary Ronen, one of three supervisors who originally voted against the use of killer robots, said at last week’s meeting: “I’m surprised we’re here in 2022. We have seen these lead to tragedy and destruction around the world.” After Tuesday’s reversal, she tweeted, “Common sense has prevailed.”
The new policy allows SFPD to use robots for situational awareness, such as directing the equipment into dangerous situations while officers stay behind.
On Monday, Supervisor Gordon Mar tweeted that he regretted voting for lethal robots and said he would change his stance: “Even with additional guardrails, I am increasingly uncomfortable with our vote and the precedent it sets for other cities without an equally strong commitment to police accountability . I don’t think it’s a step forward to make state violence more remote, more distant and less human.
“I don’t think lethal force robots will make us safer, or prevent or solve crimes,” he added.
The San Francisco Police Department has a controversial history of using deadly force against civilians, and a former officer is now charged with manslaughter for murder while on duty.
The SFPD did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
The Associated Press contributed reporting