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Not So Fast, Mr. Officer

Controversial addition to the San Francisco police force was paused this week

In the lead-up to Electrical Apparatus' Robotics and Automation issue (coming in January), one particular use of robots has grabbed recent headlines for its controversial circumstances within a major urban police force. San Francisco approved the use of deadly force by robots, and has since "paused" the motion after a week of protests and public pushback.

The initial decision: On Tuesday, November 29, the San Francisco Board of Supervisors approved a “Law Enforcement Equipment Policy” by a vote of 8 to 3. Contained in the policy was approval for the SFPD to utilize potentially lethal force in extreme circumstances to save or prevent further loss of life.

“The passage of this policy is a testament to the confidence Mayor Breed, the Board of Supervisors, and the people of San Francisco have in our department and our officers, and I am humbled by their overwhelming support, said San Francisco Police Chief William Scott. “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. We need the option to be able to save lives in the event we have that type of tragedy in our city.”

The reversal: The Board of Supervisors voted unanimously on December 7 to explicitly ban the use of robots in such a fashion for now. The issue was sent back to a committee for further discussion and could vote in the future to let police use robots in a lethal manner in limited cases.

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