San Francisco police are seeking permission for their robots to use deadly force

Hot potatoes: The San Francisco Police Department (SFPD) has drafted new regulations that allow it to deploy military robots to use lethal force against criminal suspects. The SFPD Board of Supervisors Rules Committee has approved the rules and is requiring officials to adopt them into city ordinances.

This policy falls within a broader set of regulations regarding the SFPD’s use of “military” weapons, including semi-automatic rifles, submachine guns, and submachine guns. The new draft is in response to California’s passing AB 481which requires all state law enforcement agencies to annually provide detailed reports on the use of their military arsenals, including robots.

Reports must include complete inventories of all weapons that are not “standard issue service weapons.” These lists will consist of everything other than firearms and guns. Mission Local news agency reports that SFPD officials have already tried Hide specific elements of their reports.

“The policy draft is facing criticism from advocates for its language about robot power, as well as for excluding hundreds of assault rifles from its military-style weapons inventory and not including personnel costs in the price of its weapons,” Mission Local reports.

The SFPD eliminated 608 semi-automatic rifles, 64 submachine guns and 15 submachine guns in the first draft. The Board of Supervisors called on the Rules Committee for deletion and returned the document for review. 375 semi-auto rifles are still missing from the current draft. The police chief claimed that he considered the issue of weapons to be a “normal case”.

Opponents say this reasoning is ridiculous.

“We don’t see uniformed officers walking around with assault rifles,” said Alyssa Victory, staff attorney at the ACLU of Northern California. “Just because a policy is written does not make it a policy.”

Local civil rights attorney Tiffany Moyer agreed.

The law defines “military weapons,” not the police chief. San Francisco isn’t the only department that has attempted to redefine “military weapons” to justify hiding their use, costs, and maintenance from the public.

We live in a dystopian future, where we debate whether the police can use robots to execute citizens without a trial, jury, or judge. This is not normal. No legal person or ordinary resident should continue as if it were a matter of course.

Board supervisor Aaron Peskin initially tried to limit mechanical force, saying, “Robots may not be used as an application of force against a person.” The Board sent this release back to the SFPD. A resubmitted draft wording has been crossed out in bold red and replaced with:

Bots will only be used as a lethal force option when the risk of loss of life to members of the public or officers is imminent and outweighs any other force option available to the SFPD.

Police robots are usually used to handle bombs or monitor certain situations from a safe place, such as when dealing with a sniper. The first time police used a robot to kill a suspect in the US was in Dallas when authorities attached an explosive device to the device, drove it into sniper range, and detonated it.

Remote controlled robots can also be equipped with a PAN disruptor. This charge is a shotgun loaded with a water-filled shell fired at an explosive for controlled detonation. However, the PAN unit can use live rounds just as easily. The SFPD is said to have “multiple PAN disruptors.”

While preserving the safety of citizens, officers must always be at the forefront of department regulations. Using non-living robots in dangerous situations seems like a smart move. However, the policy overlooks or smears the greatly diminished situational awareness of the line officer on the scene.

Even with an officer at the robot’s controls, he won’t have the same perception as he would of the situation, which can lead to significant errors. An example of this is when a robot enters a building during a standoff and deflates or explodes, killing an unseen bystander in a hideout or in the vicinity of the device’s camera.

Image credits: Israeli military robot via livageLos Angeles County Bot Eric Polk

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