San Francisco police killer robots threaten the city’s most vulnerable

Asaro also believes that allowing deadly police robots could be doomed. Suspects might be more wary of attempts to trade through a robot if they know it might be armed, he says. Asaro is a co-founder of the International Committee for Robot Arms Control, a group working on an international treaty to ban killer robots.

San Francisco lawmakers have been asked to approve police use of killer robots due to a process sparked by a 2021 California law called Assembly Bill 481 which requires local oversight of the funding, acquisition and use of military equipment by the police. The law aims to give local governments the power to guard against the militarization of law enforcement and explicitly says that the equipment is used more frequently in black and brown communities. In nearby Oakland, AB 481 led the city’s police department to call for a lethal use of force involving remotely operated robots, but in October police withdrew this request.

One of the effects of AB 481 is to add local surveillance to hardware like that obtained through a US Department of Defense program that sends billions of dollars military equipment such as armored vehicles and ammunition to local police departments. The program’s equipment was used against protesters following the police killings of Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri, in 2014 and George Floyd in Minneapolis in 2020.

Earlier this year, San Francisco Supervisor Aaron Peskin amended San Francisco’s draft military-grade police equipment policy to explicitly prohibit the use of robots to apply force against any person. But an amendment proposed by the SFPD this month said police should be free to use robotic force, as their officers should be ready to respond to incidents in which multiple people were killed. “In some cases, lethal force against a threat is the only option to mitigate these mass casualties,” the amendment says.

Ahead of yesterday’s vote, Brian Cox, director of the San Francisco Public Defender’s Office Integrity Unit, called the change antithetical to the progressive values ​​the city has long stood for and urged supervisors to reject the SFPD proposal. “It is a false choice, based on fear and the desire to write their own rules,” he said in a letter to the supervisory board.

Cox said the deadly robots on the streets of SF could cause serious harm, compounded by “the SFPD’s long history of excessive use of force, especially against people of color.” The American Civil Liberties Union, the Electronic Frontier Foundation and the Lawyers Committee for Civil Rights have also expressed opposition to the policy.

The San Francisco Police Department revealed that it has 17 robots, although only 12 are operational. They include search and rescue robots designed for use after a natural disaster like an earthquake, but also models that can be equipped with a shotgun, explosives or a pepper spray emitter.

Supervisor Aaron Peskin raised the potential for police to use explosives during the debate ahead of yesterday’s vote. In a confrontation in Philadelphia in 1985, police dropped explosives from a helicopter on a house, starting a fire that killed 11 people and destroyed 61 homes.

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