Should robots be used by police to kill dangerous suspects?
It's a hot topic up for debate in San Francisco after city supervisors passed a measure that would enable police to use robots equipped with explosives. One week later amid public outcry, the controversial policy was removed from a larger ordinance aimed at police funding.
"We have it as a tool in the event that we do have time and we don't have to go in and stop the threat immediately," said SFPD Assistant Chief, David Lazar with the Special Ops Bureau. "We can weigh out, do we want to risk our lives and the public to expose ourselves to the suspect? Or can we send a robot in to deal with it."
Some San Francisco officials wanted to go ahead with allowing robots to use deadly force in certain cases. They argued nothing had really changed – so there was no need to reverse the policy. But the vote, including the ban on lethal robots, passed unanimously.
Diana Scott holds up a sign during a protest about the use of robots by the San Francisco Police Department outside of City Hall in San Francisco, Dec. 5, 2022. (AP Photo/Jeff Chiu, File)
"At the end of the day – we have to ask ourselves, 'Do we want the SFPD to use military grade weapons through a robot armed with a bomb to blow things up?'" Asked San Francisco supervisor Dean Preston. "And the answer to that is no."
It's believed the first-time police used a robot to kill an armed suspect was in Dallas in 2016, after a 45-minute shootout with police killed five officers. Swat was given the greenlight to send in a robot armed with C-4 explosives.
Though robot technology for law enforcement has become more widely available, police across the country rarely deploy deadly robots to kill or confront suspects. Some departments, like San Francisco, do use robots to check out potentially dangerous scenes, so officers can stay back.
Technology, however, is moving ahead fast. And pretty soon police departments nationwide, possibly in your area, could be wrestling with the ethical implication of using lethal robots to stop crime.
A man writes on the sidewalk during a protest about the use of robots by the San Francisco Police Department outside of City Hall in San Francisco, Dec. 5, 2022. (AP Photo/Jeff Chiu)