San Francisco police seek permission for its robots to use deadly force

Cal Jeffrey

Posts: 3,656   +1,122
Staff member
A hot potato: The San Francisco Police Department (SFPD) has drafted new regulations allowing it to deploy militarized robots to use lethal force on criminal suspects. The SFPD Board of Supervisors Rules Committee has approved the rules and is petitioning officials to adopt them into city ordinances.

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

The reports must include complete inventories of all weapons that are not "standard-issue service weapons." Those lists would consist of everything other than sidearms and shotguns. Area news outlet Mission Local notes that SFPD officials have already tried to hide specific items from their reports.

"The draft policy faces criticism from advocates for its language on robot force, as well as for excluding hundreds of assault rifles from its inventory of military-style weapons and for not including personnel costs in the price of its weapons," Mission Local reported.

The SFPD excluded its 608 semi-automatic rifles, 64 machine guns, and 15 submachine guns in the first draft. The Board of Supervisors called out the rules committee for the omission and sent the document back for revision. The current draft is still missing 375 semi-automatic rifles. The chief of police claims he deemed the weapons "standard issue."

Opponents say this rationale is ludicrous.

"We don't see regular officers walking around with assault rifles," said Staff Attorney Allyssa Victory with the ACLU of Northern California. "Just writing a policy doesn't make it so."

Local civil rights attorney Tifanei Moyer agreed.

The law defines 'military weapons,' not the chief of police. San Francisco is not the only department to attempt to redefine 'military weapons' so as to justify hiding their use, costs, and upkeep from the public.

We are living in a dystopian future, where we debate whether the police may use robots to execute citizens without a trial, jury, or judge. This is not normal. No legal professional or ordinary resident should carry on as if it is normal.

Board Supervisor Aaron Peskin initially tried to limit mechanical force, saying, "Robots shall not be used as a Use of Force against any person." The board sent that version back to the SFPD. A resubmitted draft had his wording crossed out with bold red marker and replaced with:

Robots will only be used as a deadly force option when risk of loss of life to members of the public or officers are imminent and outweigh any other force option available to SFPD.

Typically police robots are used for dealing with bombs or surveilling certain situations from a safe location, 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 strapped an explosive to the machine, piloted it to within range of a sharpshooter, and detonated it.

The remote-controlled robots can also be equipped with a PAN disruptor. This device is a shotgun loaded with a water-filled shell fired into an explosive for a controlled detonation. However, a PAN unit can use live rounds just as readily. The SFPD reportedly has "several PAN disruptors."

While keeping citizens and officers safe should 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 glosses over the extremely diminished situational awareness of a live officer the scene.

Even with an officer at the robot's controls, he will not have the same perception as if he were in the situation, which could lead to things going very wrong. An example would be when the robot enters a building during a standoff and unloads or explodes, killing an unseen bystander in hiding or in the periphery of the device's camera.

Image credits: Israeli Military Robot by Levg, LA County Robot by Eric Polk

Permalink to story.



Posts: 4,448   +6,631
Just tell the police union that this is fine, but for each robot they have to specify which human officer can now be laid off now that his job is being outsourced.

The robots will never be brought up again.

Someone has to run the robot, genius.


Posts: 4,448   +6,631
"We are living in a dystopian future, where we debate whether the police may use robots to execute citizens without a trial, jury, or judge."

Police do exactly this every single day - sometimes its part of their job. The selective reality of the left never ceases to amaze.


Posts: 1,284   +1,900
Someone has to run the robot, genius.
Yeah, my point wasn't about actual exact units of labor required. It is a political negotiation - you push for more distance and less accountability from your job, stakeholders are going to push back for less of your job.

Although now that I think about it, neither the word "robot" nor the phrase "robot used deadly force" make sense if it is a 100% operator-controlled weapon with no automation. No one says "the gun used deadly force" because it's clear it was the human that was holding the gun that used deadly force. Why is the wording different here? (unless it solely to sensationalize an article, which has been known to happen...)


Posts: 3,740   +6,497
I can see cali agreeing to this. After all, robots run off of pure logic and reason, no emotions, no subjective opinions.

Of course, this tends to result in some rather......shall we say "inconvenient" observations about criminals being made, so either way there will be fireworks.


Posts: 1,326   +930
Oh yea... the US... why I'm I surprised lol
What a narrow-minded comment. Just because many of us stand firm on our rights to have and bare arms does NOT mean we're all crazed maniacs.

The San Fransisco PD is very much out of line for making such an asinine and inappropriate proposal. They need a swift and blunt smack down to remind them that they are tax-payer funded public servants who will do as they are told by the people they serve. This is a very slippery slope, one that must be avoided at all costs.

Uncle Al

Posts: 9,275   +8,436
Absolutely NOT. Like too many other things in the past, this will only be the first step in a further militarization of the police. Far too many cops are trigger happy now days with very little fear of prosicution and now this allows them to do the same with nobody to blame. If anything, give 'em hatchets and pocket knives and let them try some of this cr**.


Posts: 1,716   +883
How about more refined armor instead?A full body armor that not only stops bullets but also leaves people wearing it in perfect shape.


Posts: 453   +136
If a crazy gun shooter who has explosives is holed up in a school room, why risk a cop getting killed? send in a armed robot to kill him.


Posts: 1,284   +1,900
If a crazy gun shooter who has explosives is holed up in a school room, why risk a cop getting killed? send in a armed robot to kill him.
This is how it always starts. The public gets talked into approving extreme actions for extreme circumstances. But it's never long before the extreme actions part is kept and the extreme circumstances part is dropped. See previous military weapons, SWAT teams going from specialized and rare to common place, no-knock warrants being used routinely with nobody even bothering to double check the address, etc.

If you get tricked into giving the green light on this it will not be too long before the first child is killed by a robot because he talked back to a teacher or ate a candy bar in class.

Think I'm kidding? It wasn't that long ago we started allowing police officers in schools as a routine matter, and now there's already been buttloads of cases of what should have been routine kids-being-kids disciplinary matters (go see the principal or stand on the blue line) turned into full crimes including handcuffs, physical force, arrests, and jail.

I'm maybe a tiny bit more flexible on this than some here. I'd be OK with the FBI or the secret service having a couple HRT teams for extreme circumstances including this kind of weaponry. If your situation really, really, really required it, then sure ask the president to send in the team that truly trains on this. But giving it to every two bit local police force where the sheriff just thinks it'd be fun to have a few tanks around? No thanks.