San Francisco votes to let cops deploy robots that kill – Times of India

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SAN FRANCISCO: Supervisors in San Francisco voted on Tuesday to give city police the ability to use potentially lethal, remote-controlled robots in emergency situations – following an emotionally charged debate that reflected divisions on the politically liberal board over support for law enforcement.
The vote was 8-3, with the majority agreeing to grant police the option despite strong objections from civil liberties and other police oversight groups. Opponents said the authority would lead to the further militarisation of a police force already too aggressive with poor and minority communities. Supervisor Connie Chan said she understood concerns over use of force but that “according to state law, we are required to approve the use of these equipment.”
The San Francisco police department said it does not have pre-armed robots and has no plans to arm robots with guns. But the department could deploy robots equipped with explosive charges “to contact, incapacitate, or disorient violent, armed, or dangerous suspect” when lives are at stake, SFPD spokesperson Allison Maxie said in a statement.
“Robots equipped in this manner would only be used in extreme circumstances to save or prevent further loss of innocent lives,” she said.
Supervisors amended the proposal on Tuesday to specify that officers could use robots only after using alternative force or de-escalation tactics, or concluding they would not be able to subdue the suspect through those alternative means. Only a limited number of high-ranking officers could authorise use of robots as a deadly force option.
San Francisco police currently have a dozen functioning ground robots used to assess bombs or provide eyes in low visibility situations, the department says. But explicit authorisation was required after a new California law went into effect this year requiring police and sheriffs departments to inventory military-grade equipment and seek approval for their use.
San Francisco police said on Tuesday that no robots were obtained from military surplus, but some were purchased with federal grant money. Debate on Tuesday ran more than two hours with members on both sides accusing the other of reckless fear mongering.
Supervisor Rafael Mandelman, who voted in favor of the policy authorization, said he was troubled by rhetoric painting the police department as untrustworthy and dangerous. “I think there’s larger questions raised when progressives and progressive policies start looking to the public like they are anti-police,” he said. “I think that is bad for progressives. I think it’s bad for this Board of Supervisors. I think it’s bad for Democrats nationally.”
Board President Shamann Walton, who voted against the proposal, pushed back, saying it made him not anti-police, but “pro people of colour.” “We continuously are being asked to do things in the name of increasing weaponry and opportunities for negative interaction between the police department and people of color,” he said. “This is just one of those things.”
The San Francisco Public Defender’s office sent a letter Monday to the board saying that granting police “the ability to kill community members remotely” goes against the city’s progressive values. AP





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