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7 Dec, 2022 04:37

US city changes mind on ‘killer’ police robots

San Francisco police previously suggested outfitting the machines with explosives in “extreme” cases
US city changes mind on ‘killer’ police robots

Officials in San Francisco, California have reversed course just days after voting to allow local law enforcement to deploy robots to kill suspects under certain circumstances, temporarily rescinding the authorization until another vote set for next week.

The San Francisco Board of Supervisors voted unanimously to suspend the move on Tuesday, making an about-face after an 8-3 vote last week to let police use robots as a “deadly force option when risk of loss of life to members of the public or officers is imminent.”

“We just stopped the use of killer robots in [San Francisco]. Complete reversal from last week. Common sense prevailed,” Supervisor Hillary Ronen wrote in a tweet later in the evening. 

Because local law requires the board to vote twice on the same piece of legislation, the new ban will be taken up again for another vote next week. However, the city’s Rules Committee has vowed to re-evaluate the policy altogether following a vocal public backlash, including a recent protest rally joined by city supervisors.

Some officials, including Supervisor Dean Preston, said they felt last week’s vote was rushed, arguing that residents did not have enough time to evaluate the measure and make their views known before it was passed.

While the city is required to give the lethal force provision another vote, they approved the rest of the ordinance, which lays out how the San Francisco Police Department can employ the robots and other military-style gear. The SFPD owns 17 robots, though five of them are currently not operational, according to an inventory sheet seen by Fox News.

The police department previously said it had no plans to mount firearms on its robots, but suggested the devices might be used to kill in “extreme circumstances,” for example by delivering an “explosive charge to breach a structure containing a violent or armed subject.”

That example mirrored a real-life case in Dallas, Texas in 2016, when officers outfitted a robot with a bomb to end a standoff with a gunman who had shot 14 police officers, five of them fatally. The shooter was killed immediately, though the bot reportedly remained functional after the incident.