Robocops? San Francisco police to use killer robots

San Francisco supervisors have approved the use of killer robots by the city’s police force in emergencies, adding to law enforcement’s arsenal these lethal machines usually found in science fiction flicks.

The San Francisco Board of Supervisors voted 8-3 this week to give police the option to use remote-controlled robots that may deploy deadly force for emergencies and other crises. 

A limited number of officers will have the option of using the robots and the supervisors modified the proposal to ensure the cops would try other methods first. 

Opponents of weaponizing robots with the capacity to kill humans include civil liberties advocates who fear the limitations on the robots will not last.

The Electronic Frontier Foundation, a civil liberties nonprofit headquartered in San Francisco, said the board failed to address how police have previously misused deadly force and military equipment and technology. 

“The fact is, police technology constantly experiences mission creep — meaning equipment reserved only for specific or extreme circumstances ends up being used in increasingly everyday or casual ways,” wrote EFF policy analyst Matthew Guariglia. 

To quell concerns about deploying killer robots, supervisor Rafel Mandelman took to Twitter to explain the robots would not arrive outfitted with firearms. 

Mr. Mandelman, who voted for the robots, said the killer robots may be the best and only way for cops to deal with terrorists and mass shooters. 

“Under this policy, SFPD is authorized to use these robots to carry out deadly force in extremely limited situations when risk to loss of life to members of the public or officers is imminent and outweighs any other force option available,” he said on Twitter.

Critics are skeptical that the government will limit itself and police officers will exercise restraint. 

“Killer robots will not make San Francisco safer,” wrote the American Civil Liberties Union of Northern California on Twitter. “Police kill Black and Brown people at epidemic rates, and remote triggers are easier to pull.”

Supporters of robots patrolling America’s streets believe detractors are hyperbolic. 

Rich Lowry, editor-in-chief of the conservative National Review, wrote that the using killer robots was logical and in keeping with police having access to helicopters and armored cars. 

“San Francisco progressives inevitably fear that robots will be used to harm non-white people in particular, and there have been the inevitable references to sci-fi movies,” Mr. Lowry wrote. “But robots will just be another law-enforcement tool among many.” 

The San Francisco Police Officers Association argued on Twitter that the robots’ ability to kill does not make them capable of acting independently. The group noted that the robots require human action to operate. 

“Santa Claus is not a burglar. The Tooth Fairy is not operating a cash-for-tooth bounty business, and if you sail east, you will not fall off the edge of the earth,” the association wrote on Twitter. “Oh, and there are no ‘killer robots’ on the agenda.”

As San Francisco experiments with the robots, its counterparts across the bay in the Oakland Police Department dropped a similar proposal after public outcry. 

This story is based in part on wire service reports.

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