San Francisco lawmakers voted on Tuesday to ban police robots from using deadly force, reversing course a week after authorities endorsed the practice and sparked national outrage.
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 council has also referred the matter to a committee for further consideration, meaning it could later decide to allow lethal force in certain circumstances.
The U-turn came after a majority of 11-person council members voted last week to allow robots to be armed with explosives and use them to kill people “when the risk of death to members public or officers is imminent”. and overrides any other force option available to SFPD”. The council had also added an amendment stating that only high-ranking officers would be allowed to authorize lethal force.
The initial decision to allow “killer robots” drew widespread criticism from civil rights groups and cast a harsh light on the growing militarization of US police forces.
Supervisors and police officials who initially supported the use of lethal force said robots would only kill people in extraordinary cases, such as suicide attacks or active shooter situations.
Hilary Ronen, one of three supervisors who initially voted against deploying killer robots, said at last week’s meeting: “I’m surprised we’re here in 2022. We’ve seen a history of those- leading to tragedy and destruction all over the world. .” Following Tuesday’s reversal, she tweeted, “Common sense prevailed.”
The new policy allows the SFPD to use robots for situational awareness, such as sending equipment into dangerous situations while officers stay behind.
On Monday, Supervisor Gordon Mar tweeted that he regretted having voted for deadly robots and said he would change his position: “Even with additional safeguards, I am increasingly uncomfortable with our vote and the previous that he’s creating for other cities without such a strong commitment to police accountability.I don’t think making state violence more remote, distant, and less humane is a step forward.
“I don’t think robots with lethal force will make us safer, or prevent or solve crimes,” he added.
San Francisco police have a controversial history of using lethal force against civilians, and a former officer is now facing manslaughter charges for an on-duty murder.
The SFPD did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
The Associated Press contributed reporting