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San Francisco Officials Just Voted To Allow Police Robots That Kill—And People Are Horrified

The San Francisco Board of Supervisors voted to allow police to use remote-controlled robots armed with explosives in emergency situations.

Robot with police stripes standing in an urban background
Roland Weihrauch/picture alliance via Getty Images

Following an emotional heated debate that revealed splits on a politically liberal board over support for law enforcement, San Francisco supervisors decided on Tuesday to allow municipal police to use potentially lethal, remote-controlled robots in emergency scenarios.

The powers, according to opponents, would further militarize a police force already overly hostile toward poor and minority populations.

8 supervisors voted in favor of giving police the killer robot option.

According to the San Francisco Police Department, there are no robots already armed and there are no plans to arm robots with firearms. However, if lives are at risk, the department may send out robots armed with explosive charges.

The robots will be limited in scope, SFPD spokesman Allison Maxie said in a statement.

She said:

“Robots equipped in this manner would only be used in extreme circumstances to save or prevent further loss of innocent lives.”

The San Fransisco Police Department already owned the robots, albeit not equipped with explosives. This issue has come forward due to a California law passed recently that mandates police forces inventory and request use of any military-grade weaponry they have or would like access to.

David Chiu, the city attorney for San Francisco, wrote the state bill last year while serving in the assembly. The Act aims to provide the public with a platform and a voice in the purchase and use of military-grade weapons that have a harmful impact on communities.

During the heated debate, many opinions came forth. Board President Shamann Wilson, who voted against the proposal, encapsulated the arguments for and against well.

They stated:

“We continuously are being asked to do things in the name of increasing weaponry and opportunities for negative interaction between the police department and people of color."
"This is just one of those things.”

Reactions have been swirling in the week leading up to and now after the hearing about the potentially lethal police robots.

Some reacted with horror at the concept of robots with any weapons, let alone explosives.

A few tried to contextualize the robots in terms of how they will be used, which is only through approval from a few high-ranking officers in the SFPD.

But this justification came from a very small minority.

Many more commented on how the decision feels like it is out of a dystopian novel or film. They referenced media like Skynet from the Terminator franchise, Robocop and Doctor Who among others.

Others processed their shock and horror through gallows-humor memes.

Other places in the USA have robots with similar capabilities to the newly approved ones in San Fransisco.

But this is the first time the concept has come to such public debate and been approved. In nearby Oakland, California a similar measure was dropped after widespread public backlash.