A divisive board of supervisors meeting in San Francisco resulted in the approval of a draft policy allowing police robots to be used as a last resort against suspects.
In an 8-3 vote, the amendment requires officers to evaluate the use of alternative force options or de-escalation tactics before deploying a robot, giving only the police chief, assistant chief or deputy chief of special operations the decision to deploy robots, SF Gate reported.
The robots are armed with explosive charges “to breach fortified structures containing violent, armed, or dangerous subjects or used to contact, incapacitate, or disorient violent, armed, or dangerous suspect who pose a risk of loss of life to law enforcement or other first responders,” according to San Francisco Police Department statement to SF Gate.
“Today’s vote approving the SFPD’s dystopian military equipment policy — which will allow SFPD to use robots to kill people — is deeply disturbing,” Supervisor Dean Preston tweeted. “This is a sad moment for our City, and it shows how far we have strayed from the 2020 reckoning on police violence.”
Supervisors in support of the measure insisted police have safeguards in place, while Supervisor Catherine Stefani called the amendment’s criticism “fear-mongering.”
Other California cities have recently toyed with adding robots to their police forces. A similar vote for shotgun-round-carrying robots working with Oakland police recently failed to pass, while the Los Angeles Police Department is expected to receive a $300,000 Boston Dynamics robot dog, according to the Los Angeles Daily News.
In Massachusetts, robots have already been seen working with law enforcement officials. Massachusetts State Police were seen using robot dogs from Boston Dynamics at the Charles River Esplanade before the Fourth of July. “Roscoe” the robotic dog was in use for the bomb squad during safety preparations for the holiday fireworks show, NBC 10 Boston reported.
In November 2019, state police tested the Boston Dynamics robot “Spot” briefly for its “capability of providing remote inspection of potentially hazardous objects and dangerous environments that might contain criminal suspects or explosive devices,” spokesperson David Procopio told MassLive at the time.
Questions about the ethics of partnering state police with robot dogs have been raised over the years. The American Civil Liberties Union of Massachusetts said to WBUR in 2019 the lack of transparency regarding the state police’s overall robotics program was worrying.
Director of the technology for liberty program at the ACLU of Massachusetts Kade Crockford told the radio station that more needs to be known as to how the state police are using
“We really need some law and some regulation to establish a floor of protection to ensure that these systems can’t be misused or abused in the government’s hands,” Crockford said. “And no, a terms of service agreement is just insufficient.”
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