Technology

A Robocop reality? San Francisco police seek approval to kill suspects using robots

As part of a divisive policy proposal, the SFPD maintains that its troop of around a dozen droids will only be used as lethal options where there is a life-threatening risk to civilians and officers, and no alternatives are feasible.

The draft policy, which defines how the SFPD is allowed to use its military-style weapons, is heading for vote by the city and county’s Board of Supervisors next week, according to Mission Local. A version of this draft policy was unanimously accepted by the rules committee last week and will come before the full board on November 29.

It previously received pushback from some members concerning its language on robot force. Aaron Peskin, chair of the Board of Supervisors Rules Committee, previously tried to curb the extent of the policy by inserting the sentence, “Robots shall not be used as a Use of Force against any person.”

The police reportedly struck out the suggestion in a subsequent draft and replaced it with language that set out its authority to use lethal force with robots.

“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 outweigh any other force option available to SFPD,” the proposal read.

It adds: “It is particularly important that officers apply proportionality and critical decision-making when encountering a subject who is armed with a weapon other than a firearm.”

Killer robot ED-209 from the 1987 sci-fi film Robocop

/ Orion Pictures

While reminiscent of the brutal Eighties sci-fi Robocop, the fact is that police in the UK already utilise droids for bomb disposal and to inspect areas and vehicles. In the US, a robot armed with an explosive was even used to kill a suspect in Dallas in 2016.

Meanwhile, New York police briefly used a robot dog to scour crime scenes and assist in hostage situations, before ditching it due to a privacy backlash. The French Army has also previously used the four-legged machine, known as Spot, which businesses can purchase from tech company Boston Dynamics, during training exercises.

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