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Civil Rights Group Sounds Off on How SF Police Department Wants to Use Robots

John bazemore

In 2016, amid the deadliest attack on law enforcement in the U.S. since 9/11, Dallas police made the controversial decision to send a bomb-equipped robot into the parking garage where the assailant, who had killed five officers, was holed up. After a lengthy negotiation with the suspect broke down and gunfire started being exchanged, officers decided to deploy the robot to kill the man. “We saw no other option but to use our bomb robot,” Dallas Police Chief David Brown said about the then-unprecedented decision. 

But now, interest in lethal robots is picking up. 

The San Francisco Police Department made waves recently over a draft policy that would allow law enforcement officers to use lethal force against suspects in “extreme circumstances.” 

Contrary to a measure that was defeated in Oakland, which would have outfitted robots with shotgun rounds, the SFPD clarified they’re considering the use of explosive devices. 

"The SFPD does not own or operate robots outfitted with lethal force options and the Department has no plans to outfit robots with any type of firearm," spokesperson Allison Maxie said in a statement. "As an intermediate force option, robots could potentially be equipped with explosive charges to breach fortified structures containing violent, armed, or dangerous subjects or used to contact, incapacitate, or disorient violent, armed, or dangerous suspect who pose a risk of loss of life to law enforcement or other first responders by use of any other method, approach, or contact." 

Maxie continued: "While an explosive charge may be considered an intermediate force option, it could potentially cause injury or be lethal. Robots equipped in this manner would only be used in extreme circumstances to save or prevent further loss of innocent lives."

Civil rights groups are sounding off against the proposed policy. 

“We are living in a dystopian future, where we debate whether the police may use robots to execute citizens without a trial, jury, or judge,” said Tifanei Moyer of Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights of the San Francisco Bay Area, reports Mission Local. 

The policy is going up for a vote by the full San Francisco Board of Supervisors on Tuesday. 

Update: The San Francisco Board of Supervisors approved the policy, 8-3, allowing robots to be equipped with explosive devices to be used in "extreme circumstances to save or prevent further loss of innocent lives."

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