Police Killer Robots in SF are on Temporary Hold


WASHINGTON (12-06) – Feeling pressure from a massive public outcry over the use of remote-controlled lethally armed police robots, the Board of Supervisors today voted 8-3 not to move forward at this time in approving a proposal for their deployment. The board instead voted to send the proposal back to the rules committee for further study meaning that conceivably they could approve the proposal once they have adopted a policy and outlined how and when such a lethal device could be utilized and by whom.

Supervisor Dean Walton yesterday posited that he was urging the board to vote in sending the ordinance back to committee and that “…hopefully it will die there.”

With today’s decision to do just that, it is even more incumbent upon activists and concerned citizens to speak out during the public comment period making their objections known to influence the board’s final decision in rejecting the ordinance. If supervisors do however vote to adopt such a policy, it would not take effect until 30 days after its passage before becoming the law in San Francisco.

Conceivably in a litigious city, such a controversial decision would end up in the courts being contested on various grounds by those advocating for what has been adequately described as a Dystopian measure the likes of which are reminiscent of such notable science fiction works as George Orwell’s Nineteen Eighty-Four (1949), the futuristic films Robo Cop (1987) and Brazil (1985) forewarning of such.

Supervisor Walton yesterday promised that if the ordinance is ever passed, “The people of San Francisco ultimately have decision making power over these kinds of issues if it comes to that. We should not have to go to a ballot and spend the time and resources to reject killer robots in San Francisco. I can’t even believe I have to say it. But certainly, if this Board of Supervisors adopt a policy that gives the green light to the San Francisco Police Department to use robots to kill people, I would certainly hope that there will be a very active conversation with my office and advocates about the possibility of overturning that kind of decision at the ballot. But let’s hope we don’t get to that.”

As a point of reference, a similar proposal in the City of Oakland, California was withdrawn by police in the aftermath of two Civilian Police Commission meetings where it was learned that the department already had a shotgun armed remote-controlled robot in its arsenal. That device utilized a removable single barrel shotgun arm or “percussion actuated nonelectric disrupter” (PAN) that could be attached rendering it as a lethal weapon. While it had never been lethally deployed, the public outcry at the thought of it being used was enough to condemn the proposal.

While San Francisco is in the throes of deciding whether it will allow such a lethal device for use by police, the Dallas Police Department has the distinction of being the first police agency in U.S. history to kill a suspect with a lethal bomb-carrying remote-controlled robot. On July 8, 2016, Micha Johnson, a 25-year-old U.S. Afghan war veteran, was killed when a robot delivered an explosive device during his sniper attack against peaceful protesters resulting in his killing of five police officers while wounding seven other officers and two civilians.

No matter what San Francisco decides on the issue, there will be more challenges ahead as similar kinds of military hardware are incorporated into the arsenals of police agencies across the country with each new technology presenting a slippery slope towards normalization. The challenge remains regarding what kind of world we want to live in and how we can best meet our expectations. As yesterday’s demonstration clarified, people need to be active and concerned by holding their representatives accountable and letting them know where they stand on issues.

Report and photos by Phil Pasquini

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