Law \ Legal

San Francisco Reverses Authorization For Lethal Police Robots

The San Francisco Board of Supervisors voted on Thursday to reverse a decision they made last week allowing police to use robots to administer deadly force, following national pushback from the public.

The original 8–3 vote authorizing the robots would have allowed police to kill criminal suspects with remotely operated robots in response to situations where they believe there is an imminent threat of death to officers or members of the public.

The initiative was supposed to start with teams arming bomb disposal robots with bombs that can be remotely activated, like the makeshift fatal-force robot that was used following a 2016 mass shooting in Dallas, Texas.

Following the vote last week, which was prompted by a new California state law that requires police to get city approval for the use of military-grade equipment, dozens of demonstrators, including civil rights groups and city supervisors, gathered outside City Hall Monday to protest the board’s decision.

The Electronic Frontier Foundation also released a letter on Monday signed by 44 community organizations opposing the San Francisco Board’s decision on green lighting lethal robots and calling on the board to take opposition to the plan seriously.

“SFPD’s proposal, if approved, threatens the privacy and safety of city residents and visitors,” the EFF letter argued.

Supervisors like Dean Preston, who voted against the lethal robot authorization originally, felt the public did not have enough time to weigh in on the issue.

“The people of San Francisco have spoken loud and clear: There is no place for killer police robots in our city,” Preston said in a press release.

Gordon Marr, a supervisor who originally voted in favor of the lethal robots, reversed his decision in the second vote. He shared on Monday that he regretted his original vote in a series of tweets on the subject.

“I’ve grown increasingly uncomfortable with our vote & the precedent it sets for other cities without as strong a commitment to police accountability,” Marr wrote. “I do not think making state violence more remote, distanced, & less human is a step forward.”

The decision not to authorize the deadly-force robots may not be permanent; the San Francisco Chronicle reported after the vote that the issue has been sent back to a committee for “further discussion.”

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