US police rarely deploy killer robots to confront suspects

US police rarely deploy killer robots to confront suspects

SAN FRANCISCO (AP) — The unabashedly liberal city of San Francisco became an unlikely proponent of armed police robots this week after supervisors approved limited use of remote-controlled devices, tackling cutting-edge technology becoming more widely available even Lo is rarely deployed to confront suspects.

The San Francisco Board of Supervisors voted 8-3 on Tuesday to allow police to use robots armed with explosives in extreme situations where lives are on the line and no other alternative is available. The authorization comes as police departments across the United States face increased scrutiny of the use of military equipment and force amid a years-long reckoning over criminal justice.

A new California law requiring police to take inventory of military equipment such as grenades, assault rifles and armored vehicles, and to obtain public approval for their use, has been voted on.

So far, police in only two California cities — San Francisco and Oakland — have discussed using robots as part of this operation. Across the country, police have used robots over the past decade to communicate with bunker suspects, enter potentially dangerous spaces, and, in rare cases, to use lethal force.

Dallas police became the first to kill a suspect with a robot in 2016, when they used one to detonate explosives during a standoff with a sniper that killed five police officers and wounded nine others.

The latest vote in San Francisco renewed a fierce debate that raged years ago about the ethics of using bots to kill a suspect and what doors such policies might open. Experts say the use of such bots remains largely rare even as technology advances.

Even if robotics companies offer deadlier options at trade shows, that doesn’t mean police departments will buy them, said Michael White, a professor at Arizona State University’s College of Criminology and Criminal Justice. White said companies made specialized hardware to finish barriers and scrambled to equip body-worn cameras with facial recognition software, but departments didn’t want to.

Because societies did not support this level of surveillance. It’s hard to say what’s going to happen in the future, but I think well-armed robots could be the next thing departments don’t want because societies say they don’t want them,” White said.

Robotics or otherwise, said San Francisco official David Chew, who wrote the California bill when he was in the state legislature, said communities deserve more transparency from law enforcement and a say in the use of military equipment.

said Qiu, now a city attorney.

In 2013, police kept their distance and used a robot to lift a tarp as part of a manhunt for the Boston Marathon bombing suspect, finding him hiding underneath. Three years later, Dallas police officials sent a bomb-disposal robot packed with explosives into an alcove at El Centro College to end an hours-long standoff with sniper Micah Xavier Johnson, who opened fire on officers as a protest against police brutality ended.

The police detonated the explosive devices, becoming the first department to use a robot to kill a suspect. A grand jury dismissed the charges against the officers, and Dallas Police Chief David O. Brown was widely praised for his handling of the shooting and confrontation.

“There has been tremendous agony over how police departments are using robots in the six months after Dallas,” said Mark Lomax, former executive director of the National Tactical Officers Association. “But since then, I haven’t heard much about that platform being used to neutralize suspects…until the San Francisco policy was in the news.”

The issue of killer robots has not yet surfaced in public discourse in California as more than 500 police departments and sheriffs seek approval for a military-grade gun policy under a new state law. Oakland police have abandoned the idea of ​​arming robots with guns after a public backlash, but will outfit them with pepper spray.

Many of the usage policies already approved are vague for armed bots, said John Lindsey Boland, who has been monitoring implementation of the new law as part of the American Friends Service Committee, and some departments may assume they have tacit permission to publish them. .

He said, “I think most departments aren’t willing to use their robots for lethal force, but if asked, I think there are other departments that say, ‘We want that power.'”

San Francisco Superintendent Aaron Peskin first proposed banning police from using robot power against a person. But the ministry said that while it would not equip the robots with firearms, it wanted the option to attach explosives to breach barriers or disorient a suspect.

The approved policy allows only a limited number of high-ranking officers to authorize the use of robots as lethal force—and only when lives are at stake and after exhausting alternative force or de-escalation tactics, or concluding that they would not be able to subdue the suspect by alternative means.

San Francisco police say the department’s dozens of operational ground robots have never been used to deliver an explosive device, but are used to assess bombs or provide eyes in low-visibility situations.

“We live in a time when unimaginable mass violence is becoming more common. We need choice so that we can save lives should we experience this kind of tragedy in our city,” San Francisco Police Chief Bill Scott said in a statement.

SWAT Lt. Robin Lopez said the Los Angeles Police Department does not have any robots or armed drones. He declined to say why his department was not seeking permission for armed robots, but stressed that they would need permission to deploy one.

“It’s a violent world,” he said, “so we’ll cross that bridge when we come to it.”

There are often better options than robots if lethal force is needed, said Lomax, the former head of the Tactical Officers Group, because bombs can cause collateral damage to buildings and people. “For many departments, especially in populated cities, these factors will add a lot of risk,” he said.

Last year, the New York Police Department returned a rented robotic dog sooner than expected after a public backlash, suggesting civilians aren’t yet comfortable with the idea of ​​machines chasing humans.

Police in Maine have used robots at least twice to deliver explosives intended to destroy walls or doors and end confrontations.

In June 2018, in the small town of Dixmont, Maine, police intended to use a robot to drop small explosives that would demolish an exterior wall, but instead caused the roof of a home to collapse.

The man inside was shot twice after the explosion, survived and was not stabbed in any reckless conduct with a firearm. The state later settled his lawsuit against the police, claiming that they had used the explosives improperly.

In April 2020, the Maine State Police used a small charge to blow up the door of a home during a confrontation. The suspect was shot dead by police when he emerged from the destroyed entrance and opened fire.

As of this week, the attorney general’s office had not completed its review of the tactics used in the 2018 confrontation, including the use of the improvised explosive device. A 2020 incident report dealt only with the fatal shooting.


Lauer reported from Philadelphia. Associated Press reporter David Sharp in Portland, Maine, contributed.

Copyright 2022 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed without permission.

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