from the Robocop-is-not-something-to-aspire-to dept
Update: So we had this post about SF supervisors approving the killer robots in their initial vote, and had a note at the end that it still needed one more round of approvals by the Supervisors… and apparently widespread protests last night convinced the board to drop the proposal! The original (mostly obsolete) post is below.
For a while, the city of San Francisco appeared to be on the cutting edge of civil rights. It responded to the exponential growth of the facial recognition tech industry by banning use of the unproven, often-biased tech by government agencies, including the San Francisco Police Department.
This progressive take on policing was short-lived. The 2019 ban is no longer making headlines. Instead, a move towards a West Coast police state dominates reporting about the city and its legislators, who have apparently decided that because crime exists, freedoms and liberties need to be back-burnered for the time being.
The first indication that things were sliding extremely off the rails in San Francisco was the city’s decision to give the SFPD on-demand access to live feeds from privately owned security cameras. This intrusion on personal property was justified by a blog post from Mayor London Breed, who claimed it only made since because crimes were still happening. Apparently, “exigent circumstances” were no longer enough. To “protect public safety responsibly,” San Francisco cops needed to be able to ride piggyback on private feeds whenever they deemed it necessary to do so.
Because that just wasn’t totalitarian enough, city legislators proposed another increase in police powers. Killer robots, they said, seemingly unaware of the public’s everlasting opposition to government-deployed automatons armed with deadly weapons. Literally every dystopian bit of popular culture says this is a bad idea.
Everyone else is wrong, said legislators. Let the processor chips fall where they may. And now the proposal was approved, as the Associated Press reports.
Supervisors in San Francisco voted Tuesday to give city police the ability to use potentially lethal, remote-controlled robots in emergency situations — following an emotionally charged debate that reflected divisions on the politically liberal board over support for law enforcement.
The vote was 8-3, with the majority agreeing to grant police the option despite strong objections from civil liberties and other police oversight groups.
Those aligning themselves with Terminators 0-1000 had their excuses.
Supervisor Connie Chan, a member of the committee that forwarded the proposal to the full board, said she understood concerns over use of force but that “according to state law, we are required to approve the use of these equipments. So here we are, and it’s definitely not a easy discussion.”
Wait a minute. State law says city supervisors must approve non-human deployment of deadly force? That seems… well, incredibly unlikely. This sounds like someone trying to wash their hands of the whole issue, but with the blood of city residents rather than anything that would actually make their hands less dirty.
The SFPD also “understands” the concerns of citizens. And it promises residents will not be shot to death by its city-approved killer robots. They’ll only be blown the fuck up.
The San Francisco Police Department said it does not have pre-armed robots and has no plans to arm robots with guns. But the department could deploy robots equipped with explosive charges “to contact, incapacitate, or disorient violent, armed, or dangerous suspect” when lives are at stake, SFPD spokesperson Allison Maxie said in a statement.
Huh. It looks like the SFPD misspelled “kill” at least three times in its statement. I’m not sure how you “contact” someone with an explosive, but when the Unabomber did it, it was a federal crime. “Incapacitate” is just another way to pronounce “kill.” And “disorient” only makes sense if it means the explosives will make someone incapable of orienting themselves… you know, like when they’re reduced to chunks of flesh that require a mop-up team using actual mops.
This is supposed to make people feel better about allowing armed killers with zero calculable feelings to roll up on crime scenes with a metal fistful of C-4.
Supervisors amended the proposal Tuesday to specify that officers could use robots only after using alternative force or de-escalation tactics, or concluding they would not be able to subdue the suspect through those alternative means. Only a limited number of high-ranking officers could authorize use of robots as a deadly force option.
Oh. OK. So the “amendment” shifts almost everything to the discretion of officers who will always claim they tried to de-escalate the hell out of the scene and got the shift commander on the horn before sending in a deadly blend of CPUs and explosives to “subdue” the suspect into a bloody paste incapable of alleging civil rights violations. If it’s found none of the things cops asserted prior to disintegrating a suspect are true, they’ll still be able to ask for immunity. At worst, they’ll be indemnified by the city — the same city that said killer robots are definitely something that’s needed as the city (despite some recent spikes in certain crime) enjoys historical lows in crime rates.
Here’s the thing: if you don’t want cops to get in trouble by deploying new deadly force methods without clear justification, the best thing you can do is NOT GIVE THEM THAT OPTION. Allowing cops to use remote-controlled bombs to, um, defuse situations will only result in a whole lot of post-facto forgiveness requests — pleas for mercy after they’ve already rendered someone incapable of being identified by their loved ones. There’s no way any police department in the nation can say it’s earned the trust to use something like this responsibly. Until officers can stop murdering people on the regular, the last thing they should be given access to is more ways to kill.
That said, this proposal isn’t the law just yet. The Supervisors need to vote on this again before it heads to Mayor Breed’s desk for signature.