The San Francisco Police Department (SFPD) is proposing to use robots to kill suspects in “rare” circumstances, as the force’s 12 bots are set to assist officers with deadly force and “ground support.”
The new policy proposal will be discussed next week by the San Francisco Board of Supervisors Rules Committee and will govern how the SFPD is allowed to use its military-style weapons.
The design policy has been scrutinized in recent weeks by supervisors Aaron Peskin, Rafael Mandelman and Connie Chan, who serve on the committee.
Peskin, the committee’s chairman, initially tried to limit the SFPD’s authority over the robot’s.
“Robots should not be used against any person as a use of force,” Peskin wrote.
This was dropped by the police, who replaced it with language codifying the department’s authority to use deadly force using robots.
“Robots 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 SFPD.”
The San Francisco Police Department (SFPD) is proposing to use robots to kill suspects in “rare” circumstances. They currently have 12 robots in their artillery, including bomb detection robots like this one from Long Beach, California
The new policy proposal will be discussed next week by the San Francisco Board of Supervisors Rules Committee and will govern how the SFPD is allowed to use its military-style weapons
The use of force by robots has never been approved or banned in San Francisco.
A version of the draft policy was unanimously accepted by the game rules committee last week and will be presented to the full board on November 29.
“The original policy they submitted was actually silent on whether robots could use lethal force,” Peskin told Mission Local.
He added that he decided to approve the SFPD’s reserved guidelines because the department had claimed that “there may be scenarios where the use of lethal force was the only option.”
Proponents and lawyers opposed to police militarization said they are less convinced that the policy should be greened.
“We live in a dystopian future where we debate whether police should use robots to execute civilians without trial, jury or judge,” said Tifanei Moyer, senior staff attorney at the San Francisco Bay Area Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights.
Moyer leads the organization’s work on police misconduct and militarization.
“This is not normal, no lawyer or common resident should pretend it is normal,” she added.
The design policy has been scrutinized in recent weeks by supervisors Aaron Peskin, Rafael Mandelman and Connie Chan, who are part of the committee
A robot from the bomb squad can be seen examining a suspicious bag. If the policy continues, it means they can be used when the risk of loss of life to members of the public or officers is imminent and outweigh any other option of force
The SFPD has 17 robots, 12 of which are fully functional but have never been used to attack humans.
The robots are remotely controlled and are usually used to examine and defuse potential bombs or investigate areas that are too difficult or dangerous for officers to access.
Use of the technology as described in the new draft policy includes “training and simulations, criminal arrests, critical incidents, exigent circumstances, executing a warrant or during assessments of suspicious devices.”
In 2016, the Dallas Police Department strapped plastic explosives to a robot and used it to blow up a gunman who killed five officers, in the first U.S. instance of a police robot killing a suspect.
One of the SFPD’s robots, the Remotec F5A, is the same model used by the Dallas Police Department.
At the time, Dallas Police Chief David Brown told reporters they had no choice.
“We saw no option but to use our bomb robot and place a device on its extension so that it could explode where the suspect was,” he told the Guardian.
Police detonated the explosive device, destroying a wall in the building and killing the suspect, leaving the $151,000 robot with only minor damage to its arm.
More recently, in Oakland, a deadly robot policy came before the city’s police civilian oversight board.
In 2016, the Dallas Police Department strapped plastic explosives to a robot and used it to blow up a gunman who killed five officers, in the first U.S. instance of a police robot killing a suspect
One of the SFPD’s robots, the Remotec F5A, is the same model used by the Dallas Police Department at the time of the 2016 incident
One device they discussed was the PAN disruptor, a device that attaches to a remote-controlled robot and uses an empty gun shell to disable a bomb by detonating it with pressurized water.
The Oakland Police Department acknowledged that they could arm it with live cartridges in an emergency. The SFPD also has multiple PAN disruptors that can be attached to robots and fire shotgun shells.
Last month, the Oakland Police Department finally backed down and removed language that would have allowed them to kill with robots. They said they hope to continue the option in the future.
Rueca said San Francisco police “have no specific plan” for using deadly force.
Cities across California are currently drafting new policies on the use of military weapons by local police departments, thanks to a state law called AB 481, which was passed last year.
Figuring out robots’ power options is a small part of the law’s remit.
The law requires every California police force to annually report its inventory of all military-style guns, their cost, how they can be used, and how they were deployed in the previous year.
The law gives local authorities, in San Francisco’s case, the Board of Supervisors, the ability to annually reject or accept gun-use regulations.
The board of directors will also have to sign off on new military-style equipment prior to purchase, although without approval, the police can replace any existing equipment worth up to $10 million.
Once the rules are established, the process begins again with the Sheriff’s Department, which will have to create its own policies to stay in line with AB 481 state law
Drones have also been a bone of contention in police use, but have been a useful technology for stations across the country over the years
The robots identified in the design policy include several remote-controlled robots designed for handling heavy objects, breaching walls, clearing ammunition, reconnaissance and surveillance. They include: Remotec models F5A, 6A and RONS; QinetiQ Talon and Dragon Runner; iRobot First Look; and ReconRobotics Recon Scout ThrowBot.
None of these units are designed to carry firearms, but at least some of them can be used to kill.
Another bone of contention with lawyers is that the SFPD has not included staff training or maintenance times in their valuation of the cost of their military-style guns.
This appears to be required by AB 481, which states that costs must include “acquisition, personnel, training, transportation, maintenance, storage, upgrade and other ongoing costs” of the weapons.
Once the rules are established, the process begins again with the sheriff’s department, which must create its own policies to stay in line with AB 481.
“The good news about this thing is that it can be developed,” Peskin said, adding that the policy needs to be reviewed and approved every year if the SFPD is to continue using its weapons.
“And I think we’re off to a good start.”