SAN FRANCISCO—The San Francisco Board of Supervisors voted on Tuesday, November 29, to allow the police force to utilize lethal means in emergency circumstances. The approval has drawn some criticism after passing with an 8 to 3 vote. 

The San Francisco Police Department would be allowed to deploy robots to use lethal force when, “risk of loss of life to members of the public or officers is imminent and officers cannot subdue the threat after using alternative force options or de-escalation tactics.”

The SFPD said in a statement that the policy allows for the ability to use “potentially lethal force in extreme circumstances to save or prevent further loss of life.” They elaborated that the use of these robots would only be used in extreme circumstances like bomb threats or cases where police officers have to maintain a safe distance. The police department has been acquiring robots between the years of 2010 to 2017 and “does not own or operate robots outfitted with lethal force options and the Department has no plans to outfit robots with any type of firearm.” Only the chief of police, assistant chief of operations, or deputy chief of special operations could authorize the use of robots to potentially kill a suspect.

During the SF Board of Supervisors meeting, a debate ensued about the use of these robots on the public. David Lazar, Assistant Chief of the SFPD, argued that there have already been some circumstances where the department would benefit from the use of the robots like the 2017 Las Vegas shooting. 

“The use of robots in potentially deadly force situations is a last resort option. We live in a time when unthinkable mass violence is becoming more commonplace,” said San Francisco Police Chief William Scott in a statement. “We need the option to be able to save lives in the event we have that type of tragedy in our city.”

One supervisor on the board that voted against the measure, Dean Preston, stated he received a “really widespread outpouring of opposition” to the proposed policy from constituents across the city. “We run a very serious risk of misuse by police of a robot to inflict deadly force. In the United States, we have a number of examples of abuse of that power even without robots.”

Another member of the board who voted in favor of the measure, Matt Dorsey, stated that he was not comfortable putting an explicit restriction on robots using deadly force that was “unique or at least rare among cities in the United States.”