saSan Francisco police will authorize their robots to kill criminals when necessary. A decision that could lead to abuses. Should we fear a similar phenomenon in France and Europe?
La city of San Francisco in the United States is renowned for its tolerance and diversity. However, it could also become the first city where robots are allowed to kill criminals.
The San Francisco Police Department has just proposed a new law, giving robots permission to kill. Originally, this bill was supposed to delineate how SFPD can use military-grade weapons.
However, it also states that robots can be “ used as a lethal force option when the risk of civilian or officer casualties is imminent and outweighs any other force option “.
Members of the city’s Board of Supervisors Rules Committee have reviewed the new equipment rules for several weeks. The original version of the bill did not include anything about robots.
This is Aaron Peskin, Dean of the Board of Supervisors who added that “ robots should not be used as a means of force against a person “.
However, in response, SFPD returned the draft with the addition of Peskin striped in red. Instead, a line authorizing robots to kill suspects has been added.
Despite his initial reluctance, Peskin decided to accept this change, because ” there could be scenarios where the deployment of lethal force was the only option “. The bill was unanimously approved by the San Francisco Rules Committee.
On November 29, 2022, the Board of Supervisors finally approved the legislation. Only three members voted against the project.
An amendment has been added to specify the circumstances in which robots can be used. Only high-ranking officers will have the power to authorize the use of lethal force.
– Hillary Ronen (@HillaryRonen) November 30, 2022
A fleet of 17 remote-controlled robots
At present, in accordance with the equipment rules, the SFPD controls 17 remote-controlled robots. However, only 12 are functional. In addition to giving robots the ability to kill, the bill also authorizes their use for ” training and simulations, criminal arrests, critical incidents, exigent circumstances, execution of a warrant or while consulting a suspect device “.
The majority of robots listed in the SFDP inventory are primarily used to defuse bombs, or to handle hazardous materials. However, the most recent Remotec models have an optional arming system.
Similarly, the existing F5A is equipped with a tool called “ PAN disruptor “ that can load buckshot. It’s mainly used to detonate bombs from a distance, but theoretically there’s nothing to stop you firing…
The QinetiQ Talon can also be modified to hold different weapons. An armed version of this robot is used by the US Army, and can be equipped with grenade launchers, machine guns or even an anti-material rifle.
Despite the hyperbole expressed by many who oppose this policy, I believe it lays out reasonable restrictions on the use of robots, and I appreciate the work Rules Committee Chair @AaronPeskin and SFPD did to come to an agreement on this important issue. 5/5
– Rafael Mandelman (@RafaelMandelman) November 30, 2022
The decision to let robots kill is a cause for concern. However, officer Eve Lakokwansathitaya reminds us that ” the SFPD has always had the capacity to use lethal force when the risk of loss of life to members of the public or officers is imminent and exceeds all other available force options “.
It also states that ” the SFPD has no specific plan in place, since unusually dangerous or spontaneous operations during which the SFPD needs to deliver lethal force via robots would be a rare and exceptional circumstance “.
It’s in 2016 that a robot was used to kill for the first time, by Dallas Police Department of Texas. A bomb disposal robot was armed with an explosive device to kill a suspect who had shot and killed five police officers and wounded several others. This is the same Remotec F5A robot model as the one used by the SFPD.
At the time, Dallas Police Chief David Brown stated that the department “ has seen no other option but to use our robot bomb and place a device on its extension to detonate where the suspect was “.
In October 2022, a report by The Intercept revealed that. the Oakland Police Department in California is also considering letting Remotec F5A robots use lethal force. Shortly after this report was published, in the face of public criticism the Oakland PD announced on Facebook that it had cancelled its plans to add “ remotely piloted armed vehicles “to its arsenal.
Despite the protests, it looks as if the U.S. is well on its way to letting robots fight criminals instead of human police officers. This will certainly minimize casualties in shootouts, but how can we avoid the risk of abuses?
Paradoxically, earlier in 2022, several robot manufacturers, including Boston Dynamics, made a solemn commitment not to arm their machines. Fortunately, in France, it is unlikely that police robots will be deployed for many years to come…