Local government in the city of San Francisco, California, on Tuesday has approved a law that will give the police the possibility to use robots capable of killing. The measure had been proposed by the San Francisco Police Department, was then voted on by the board of supervisors, or the city’s legislative body, and in the last two days it has caused major discussions at not only the local level.
The text provides that the police can use remotely controlled robots capable of launching explosive devices, but only in emergencies. In detail we talk about situations in which there is a risk that the policemen could be killed or injured, or in which they have no way to neutralize a danger with commonly supplied weapons.
The board of supervisors – made up of 11 members, all Democrats – approved the law with 8 votes in favor and 3 against: the latter strongly criticized it because they argue that it leads to excessive “militarization” of the police, which has often been accused in the past of being too aggressive.
The chief of police of San Francisco, Bill Scott, explained in a press conference that these robots have already been in use for some time but that until now they had never been used precisely because there was no legislation in this regard. He also explained that the robots could be particularly useful in extremely risky situations such as mass shootings.
With the approval of the law, which will now also have to be signed by the mayor London Breed to take effect, the San Francisco police will become the first in the United States to regulate the use of robots of this type. However, it will not be the first to use it, given that there is already a precedent in which a robot armed with explosives was used by the American police: it happened in 2016 in Dallas, Texas, to stop a shooting by a man during a a demonstration against police violence, in which 5 officers were killed.
On that occasion the shooter, Micah Johnson, had taken refuge in a covered parking lot, and after some negotiations with the police he was killed by a remote-controlled robot sent by the policemen inside the building. The robot, similar to the one that will be used in San Francisco, carried an explosive charge with its mechanical arm and, when it got close to Johnson, its pilot had detonated the explosives.