San Francisco police cannot use lethal robots for now

SAN FRANCISCO — San Francisco supervisors voted Tuesday to put the brakes on a controversial policy that would let police use robots for deadly force.

The Board of Supervisors unanimously voted to explicitly ban the use of robots in such fashion for now. But they sent the issue back to a committee for further discussion and could allow it in limited cases at another time.

It’s a reversal from last week’s vote allowing the use of robots in limited cases. The police said they had no plans to arm the robots with guns but wanted the ability to put explosives on them in extraordinary circumstances.

Last week’s approval generated pushback and criticism about the potential to deploy robots that can kill people.

Some supervisors said they felt the public did not have enough time to engage in the discussion about whether robots could be used to kill people before the board first voted last week.

The vote was the result of a new state law that requires police departments to inventory military-grade equipment and seek approval for its use.

The approved policy does give the police power to use robots for situational awareness, such as going first into a dangerous situation so police can stay back.

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