San Francisco allows the use of deadly robots

san francisco Violent crimes in San Francisco soar — and the city authorizes police use of deadly robots in response. No other US city has a comparable regulation.

In the future, the San Francisco Police Department (SFPD) should be able to buy robots that can kill criminals. Such machines have so far been developed primarily for the military. However, the city supervisors believe that the robots are necessary to stem the violence in the US metropolis.

Police officers are only allowed to use the deadly robots in San Francisco when a person’s life is in acute danger and other de-escalation measures have been considered, said the responsible body, the Board of Supervisors. The big question is still which robots are to be used, and the SFPD does not provide any information on this. But the number of models that come into question is manageable.

The resolution stands in contrast to previous positions. So far, the city has held back on offensive police tactics. That changed with the outbreak of the corona pandemic.

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Since then, the metropolis on the US west coast has seen a sharp increase in serious violent crimes such as murder, rape and robbery. Mayor London Breed has announced tougher police action to curb crime.

After just three years ago, San Francisco was the first city to United States after banning the use of facial recognition technology by local authorities, the city in September allowed the San Francisco Police Department live access to private surveillance cameras. Since then, the police have been able to access videos of shops or private homes in real time if the owners have given their prior consent. A court order is no longer necessary.

When deciding on the deadly robots, the advocates of the course tightening refer to a case from Dallas, Texas in 2016, where the police were shot at by a sniper. The forces then tied an explosive device to a robot that was actually intended to defuse bombs. The police steered the robot close to the shooter and detonated the bomb. The attacker was killed by the detonation.

Exact type of robot is still unknown

According to the SFPD, it owns 17 robots, twelve of which are fully operational. These are devices capable of “assisting in the execution of a warrant or evaluating suspicious objects” – not per se killer robots.

There are currently no plans to equip the robots with firearms. However, they could be combined with explosive devices – similar to the case of the police operation in Dallas.

A police officer in San Francisco during a bomb disposal

The now allowed robots may be equipped with explosive devices.

(Photo: AP)

It was initially unclear which robots the SFPD could buy in the future. The US military uses, among other things, four-legged robots from Ghost Robotics in Philadelphia. Videos circulated on the internet of how the devices were upgraded with firearms. The company said the robots would not be delivered with weapons. It is up to the customer to decide which functions are added to the devices.

Boston Dynamics has been building robots since the 1990s and also cooperates with the US military. Boston Dynamics has introduced robots that can move similar to humans. However, the company had always opposed equipping the robots with weapons.

The Board of Supervisors’ decision was not unanimous. Three of the members opposed the mission, eight voted in favor. Rafael Mandelman is one of the proponents. Given the recent violent crimes in the region, “it is imperative that police have the most advanced technology to deal with these types of threats.”

Panel member Dean Preston counters: “If you don’t trust the police with stun guns, you shouldn’t trust them with killer robots either,” he said. In 2018, San Francisco banned local police from using stun guns over fears of abuse. “We have a police force, not an army,” Preston said.

Civil rights activists criticize the use of robots

Aaron Peskin, as part of the panel, is also a critic of the technology and warns of devastating consequences if the robots are equipped with explosive devices. In 1985, the police also used an explosive device against attackers. At that time, officials dropped the explosive charge from a helicopter. The blast started a fire that destroyed more than 60 homes and killed 11 people.

>> Read here: “Because he can’t get anything done”: San Francisco votes out liberal prosecutor

Criticism also comes from civil rights activists. The use of killer robots is going far too far, said Matthew Guariglia of the civil rights group Electronic Frontier Foundation. This gives the police access to automated weapons that are actually intended for the military. In addition, the use of robots is hardly limited.

According to the guidelines, the police are not forced to use other de-escalating measures before use, but only have to “weigh” their use. “Equipment that was only intended for special or extreme situations is becoming more common in everyday or casual use,” Guariglia said. “We wonder why the police need new technologies and under what circumstances they would actually be useful.”

London Breed

The mayor of San Francisco wants to take more action against the violence in the city.

(Photo: AP)

Security expert Paul Scharre of the Center for a New American Security think tank in Washington said he was not aware of any other city where police were using the technology. Equipping robots with explosive devices is exactly the wrong way, said Scharre of the “New York Times“.

The advantage of robots is that officers do not put themselves in danger when they come into contact with violent criminals, he explained. Therefore, the use of deadly force to protect the police officers is not necessary there. A robot can use other means such as tear gas or stun grenades to render a perpetrator harmless. Scharre fears that San Francisco could now serve as a model for police authorities in other cities to also use deadly robots.

The fact that San Francisco even decides on the use of the technology has to do with a special law. In 2021, California decided that the police in the US state needed a license to use weapons and equipment that were actually intended for the military. Therefore, the SFPD had to apply for approval.

Before the new rules come into force, they still have to be signed by Mayor Breed.

In California, more than 500 police departments have applied to use killer robots. San Francisco’s neighboring city, Oakland, had recently considered such a step, but then publicly decided against it.

The police in New York had taken a robot dog with them on patrol operations last year. However, after public criticism, the police ended the pilot project.

More: Law enforcement zone San Francisco: Criminals are terrorizing the golden city.

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