Recently, San Francisco authorities have proposed a new policy to allow robots to use deadly force under certain circumstances.
The San Francisco police department currently has 17 remote-controlled, military-style robots in its inventory. These are typically used in situations to defuse bombs or contain hazardous materials.
The new policy proposes that these unmanned robots should have the capacity to inflict lethal force in situations where someone’s life is in danger or other dangerous scenarios. Below is a video showcasing these robots.
The San Francisco Police Department stated in the policy draft:
“The robots listed in this section shall not be utilized outside of training and simulations, criminal apprehensions, critical incidents, exigent circumstances, executing a warrant or during suspicious device assessment.”
“Robots will only be used as a deadly force option when risk of loss of life to members of the public or officers is imminent and outweighs any other force option available to SFPD.”
A spokeswoman for the SFPD said in a statement to The Verge:
“SFPD has always had the ability to use lethal force when the risk of loss of life to members of the public or officers are imminent and outweigh any other force option available.”
“SFPD does not have any sort of specific plan in place as the unusually dangerous or spontaneous operations where SFPD’s need to deliver deadly force via robot would be a rare and exceptional circumstance.”
The draft policy entails that specifically assigned operators will have to undergo specialized training to operate the unmanned robots.
Use of remotely controlled robots is not a new capability for many police departments. However, they have almost exclusively been used for bomb defuse. With recent developments in technology, newer models of these robots now have the option of installing a weapons system.
The Verge reported:
“While most of the robots listed in the SFPD’s inventory are primarily used for defusing bombs or dealing with hazardous materials, newer Remotec models have an optional weapons system, and the department’s existing F5A has a tool called the PAN disruptor that can load 12-gauge shotgun shells. It’s typically used to detonate bombs from a distance. The department’s QinetiQ Talon can also be modified to hold various weapons — a weaponized version of the robot is currently used by the US Army and can equip grenade launchers, machine guns, or even a .50-caliber anti-materiel rifle.”
This draft policy has drawn criticism from many who feel the idea of being governed by lethal robots is dystopian. It raises the question about what being policed by robots or other technology could open the door to in the future.
Senior staff attorney of the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights of San Francisco Bay Area slammed the policy, stating:
“We are living a dystopian future, where we debate whether the police may use robots to execute citizens without a trial, jury, or judge. No legal professional or ordinary resident should carry on as if it is normal.”
However, use of police robots to kill a suspect has already occurred in the United States. In 2016, the Dallas Police Department used a robot to kill a sniper who was accused of killing five police officers.
Feature Image is screenshot from embedded video.
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