SAN FRANCISCO -- The San Francisco Board of Supervisors voted 8-3 in favor of a policy proposal to allow the SFPD to utilize military-grade weapons, including the controversial use of lethal remote-controlled robots.
The original draft stated the robots would only deploy deadly force "when risk of loss of life to members of the public or officers is imminent and outweighs any other force option available to SFPD."
In the final draft, the phrase "outweighs any other force option available to SFPD" was replaced with "officers cannot subdue the threat after using alternative force options or de-escalation tactics options or conclude that they will not be able to subdue the threat after evaluating alternative force options and de-escalation tactics. Only the Chief, Assistant Chief of Operations, or Deputy Chief of Special Operations may authorize the use of robots as a deadly force option."
At the start of the meeting, District 3 Supervisor Aaron Peskin acknowledged the controversy, saying the robots "speak to fears about a dystopian robot killing future."
"I understand the concern and fear that that can evoke in our society," Peskin said.
District 5 Supervisor Dean Preston and District 9 Supervisor Hillary Ronen announced at Tuesday meeting that they would oppose the authorization.
"SF is not a warzone and these kinds of devices are not needed to protect this city," Preston said.
Meanwhile, District 6 Supervisor Matt Dorsey said he would support the measure. Dorsey had previously served as head of communications for the police department.
"I am not prepared to be the first of 509 police departments in CA to restrict this technology," he said.
Police told KPIX 5 reporter Lauren Toms that the robots in question were acquired by the department between 2010 and 2017.
"They have been and continue to be controlled and operated by specially trained San Francisco Police officers," the department said.
The vote is mandated under a California Assembly Bill that was passed in May which requires police departments across the state to approve the use of such equipment by their governing bodies. In San Francisco, the governing body is the Board of Supervisors.
According to the draft proposal, the purpose of the robots is to be "utilized to enhance the safety of the community and officers by providing ground support and situational awareness for law enforcement operations."
In addition to training be required for all officers using the robots, use of lethal robots would be restricted to training, criminal apprehension, critical incidents, suspicious device assessments and pressing circumstances.
The policy states the robots would only deploy deadly force "when risk of loss of life to members of the public or officers is imminent and outweighs any other force option available to SFPD."
Tuesday's vote covered SFPD use of the department's entire arsenal of military-grade weapons beyond lethal robots. The department currently has military-grade vehicles including one Mine-Resistant Ambush Protected (MRAP) vehicle and one Humvee. The department also has teargas, flashbang grenades and pepper spray, among other tools at its disposal.
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