Following local protests and international criticism, the San Francisco Board of Supervisors reversed a decision on Tuesday that would have allowed law enforcement to deploy armed robots.
Last Tuesday, the board gave a go-ahead for the police to use killer remote-controlled robots in what police have described as dire, life and death situations. With the approval came widespread contention against it, both from international and local community members, civil rights organizations and labor groups.
Instead of giving the policy its final authorization, on Tuesday the board voted 8-3 to prohibit the use of robots capable of lethal force, at least in the interim.
The reversal follows a Monday protest of over 100 people, who gathered in front of City Hall to express their concern with the initial passage. Among them were supervisors Dean Preston, Hillary Ronen and Board President Shamann Walton — the three who originally voted in dissent of the decision — and representatives from the American Civil Liberties Union of Northern California, the Electronic Frontier Foundation, SF Black Wall Street and SEIU 1021.
“The people of San Francisco have spoken loud and clear: There is no place for killer police robots in our city,” said Preston. “There have been more killings at the hands of police than any other year on record nationwide. We should be working on ways to decrease the use of force by local law enforcement, not giving them new tools to kill people.”
Ronen also mentioned that police failed to give the public a 30-day notice of the policy, which did not give supervisors a chance to ask many questions before voting.
San Francisco Police Chief William Scott assured that the department would not arm the robots with guns, and instead use them to “breach a structure” with explosives or take down a violent or armed suspect.
Police said the robots would only be used in times where officers or the public are at serious risk of death, after de-escalation tactics have failed and under the approval of a senior police official.
“The use of robots in potentially deadly force situations is a last resort option,” Scott said in a news release. “We live in a time when unthinkable mass violence is becoming more commonplace. We need the option to be able to save lives in the event we have that type of tragedy in our city.”
The board voted on the robot policy because of a recently passed state law, AB481, which requires police to first receive approval from local government before setting policies involving military equipment.
The policy will now be sent to the board’s Rules Committee for a chance to place further restrictions on when police are allowed to use these robots, if at all.
Supervisors will vote once again on the potentially revised policy at their next meeting on Tuesday.