Supervisors Agreed To Suspend Lethal Robot Policy


SAN FRANCISCO—On Tuesday, December 7, the San Francisco Board of Supervisors agreed to suspend their recently approved measure that would allow the police force to arm robots with lethal weaponry to be used “to contact, incapacitate, or disorient violent, armed, or dangerous suspects.”

In an 8 to 3 vote the board sent the ordinance back to the rules committee for revision. Supervisors, Matt Dorsey, Rafael Mandelman and Catherine Stefani each opposed this process and voted to proceed with the newly approved policy. After deliberation, the board elected to move forward a use-of-force policy that explicitly bans lethal force by police robots. The board also chose to duplicate the file to allow a larger conversation on the proper use of military robots by police.

The board emphasized that this suspension is only temporary and will not be implemented until certain changes are made. 

The new policy received criticism from San Francisco community members, civil rights organizations, and labor groups locally and internationally after it initially passed. Critics felt that these robots could easily be abused by law enforcement. Over 100 people came to city hall to protest on Monday. 

One board member, Gordon Mar, who voted for the policy last week stated on Monday, December 6, “I’m grateful to all who’ve expressed concerns with our vote authorizing SFPD to use robots to kill suspects in extreme circumstances. Despite my own deep concerns with the policy, I voted for it after additional guardrails were added. I regret it. I will vote no tomorrow.”  

Supervisor Dean Preston, who opposed the use of lethal robots, made this statement on December 6: “The people of San Francisco have spoken loud and clear: There is no place for killer police robots in our city. There have been more killings at the hands of police than any other year on record nationwide. We should be working on ways to decrease the use of force by local law enforcement, not giving them new tools to kill people.” Supervisor Hillary Ronen, and Board President Shamann Walton also opposed the new policy. 

The San Francisco Police Department proposed the use of lethal robots after a law went into effect requiring law enforcement to define the authorized uses of their military-grade equipment.