In a move that reeks of science fiction but is rooted in criminal justice challenges of the present, San Francisco officials voted Tuesday to allow police to deploy possibly lethal remote-controlled robots.
Supervisors in the ultra-liberal metropolis voted 8-3 to authorize law enforcement to utilize machines with deadly force options in certain emergency situations.
Police Department spokeswoman Allison Maxie said in a statement that the robots will not have guns. They could, however, have explosives to be used to “contact, incapacitate, or disorient violent, armed, or dangerous suspect(s).”
Maxie added that such robots will only be used for “extreme circumstances to save or prevent further loss of innocent lives.”
The SFPD further noted that it has never used machines that were acquired between 2010 and 2017 to detonate explosives. The department currently has a dozen ground robots used to encounter bombs or give officers visibility in certain situations.
San Francisco police clarified that it would not arm robots with guns. Instead, they would be equipped with explosives. https://t.co/u9h2SDPwOO
— KRON4 News (@kron4news) November 29, 2022
Officials reiterated the current inventory has never been deployed with explosives to even potentially be used against criminal suspects. The robots were purchased by the city using federal grant funding.
The city’s move followed a new California law that requires law enforcement to be explicitly permitted to keep and implement military-grade materials.
That law was written by San Francisco City Attorney David Chiu in 2021 while he was in the state assembly. It was approved to allow public input into the acquisition of military-grade weapons for use by local and state law enforcement.
Opponents of the move told the politically charged meeting that the measure will further militarize police who already take harsh actions against poor and minority citizens.
They along with supporters of the program accused the other side of fear mongering. One proponent of the new measure, Supervisor Rafael Mandelman, was disturbed by opponents portraying the police department as a dangerous agency.
Mandelman said that such rhetoric is bad for both city officials and Democrats nationally in that it paints the Board of Supervisors as anti-police. Countering him was Board President Shamann Walton, who declared he is not anti-police but rather “pro people of color.”