San Francisco Decides Killer Police Robots Are Not a Great Idea, Actually

“We should be working on ways to decrease the use of force by local law enforcement, not giving them new tools to kill people.”
Police tape
Anadolu Agency / Contributor via Getty

In an abrupt reversal amid public outcry, San Francisco’s Board of Supervisors has temporarily changed its decision to permit the city’s police department to kill people with robots, various news outlets reported.


“There have been more killings at the hands of police than any other year on record nationwide,” said District Supervisor Dean Preston in a statement. “We should be working on ways to decrease the use of force by local law enforcement, not giving them new tools to kill people.”

Last week, the Board voted 8-3 to approve a slate of policies regarding SFPD’s use of military-grade equipment, including using bomb-disposal robots to kill people like the Dallas police did in 2016 with a cornered shooting suspect. Initially, the Board did not want to include language allowing the police to kill people with robots, but the SFPD amended the language to explicitly allow it

It is not clear precisely why the Board changed its vote over the course of a week, but public outcry on the local, national, and international level seems to have played a major part. The Board’s vote was highly criticized by news outlets from around the world and from local privacy and civil rights groups that had already organized around another Board of Supervisors vote to permit the SFPD to access live video surveillance of private cameras. On Monday, the Electronic Frontier Foundation and 44 community groups signed a letter opposing the policy which argued “There is no basis to believe that robots toting explosives might be an exception to police overuse of deadly force. Using robots that are designed to disarm bombs to instead deliver them is a perfect example of this pattern of escalation, and of the militarization of the police force that concerns so many across the city.” The coalition also held a protest at City Hall on Monday.

However, the vote reversal is not permanent. According to the San Francisco Chronicle, the issue is being sent back to the Rules committee which will debate the topic further.

Matthew Guariglia, Policy Analyst for the Electronic Frontier Foundation, said in a statement the fight is not over. “Should the Rules Committee revisit the issue, the community must come together to stop this dangerous use of technology.”

Correction: This article previously stated Preston changed his vote. He voted against the proposal both times.