IE11 Not Supported

For optimal browsing, we recommend Chrome, Firefox or Safari browsers.

S.F. Police Offer More Details on Plan for Lethal Robots

The department offers more details on its draft policy, explaining how the robots would be armed.

Amid blowback from civil rights groups, the San Francisco Police Department (SFPD) has offered more details on a draft policy that would allow police robots to use lethal force against suspects as a last-resort option.

A similar policy proposal was defeated in Oakland, where police sought to outfit certain robots with live shotgun rounds. In a statement to SFGATE, the SFPD clarified that it would not seek to arm any of its robots with firearms, but rather with explosives as an “intermediate force option” that could prove to be lethal.

“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 suspects 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 added: “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.”

The draft policy was scheduled to be voted on by the full San Francisco Board of Supervisors on Tuesday. Supervisor Aaron Peskin authored a line in the policy reading, “Robots shall not be used as a Use of Force against any person,” but an SFPD revision changed that language to “Robots will only be used as a deadly force option when risk of loss of life to members of the public or officers are imminent and outweigh any other force option available to SFPD.”

In 2016, police in Dallas used a robot outfitted with explosives to kill a man who shot five police officers. Police said there was no other way to engage the suspect.

The policy has faced strong criticism.

“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,” Tifanei Moyer of Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights of the San Francisco Bay Area told Mission Local.

(c)2022 SFGate, San Francisco. Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.