Terminated! San Francisco reverses course, now bans killer robots

A killer robot hunts humans in a scene from 1991's 'Terminator 2: Judgment Day.' (Courtesy Lightstorm Entertainment)
A killer robot hunts humans in a scene from 1991’s ‘Terminator 2: Judgment Day.’ (Courtesy Lightstorm Entertainment)

Only a week after approving a plan to allow killer robots in their city, officials in San Francisco have abruptly reversed course, and have banned them.

The Washington Examiner reported the city’s board of supervisors voted unanimously this week to ban to robots.

A week earlier, the vote had been 8-3 to allow them – in specific instances where police determined deadly force was required to protect the public.

The reversal followed “pushback and anger from some people,” the report explained.

The city’s police department had claimed the robots would not be armed with guns, but rather used to deliver explosives as a “last resort.”

“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,” Police Chief William Scott said when the initial plan was adopted.

WND had reported when the Rutherford Institute, which fights in court on behalf of constitutional, civil and religious rights, warned the robots would create problems.

The institute’s president, John W. Whitehead, wrote to city officials just as they were making the decision, in fact, to adopt the plan.

He said, “Police in America are already dressed in the trappings of war, drilled in the deadly art of combat, and trained to look upon every individual they interact with as an armed threat and every situation as a deadly force encounter in the making.

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“At a time when it doesn’t take much to provoke a cop into opening fire on an unarmed person guilty of doing nothing more than standing a certain way, or moving a certain way, or holding something—anything—that police could misinterpret to be a weapon, the last thing this country needs are police agencies armed with killer robots.”

He explained California adopted Assembly Bill 481 last year, “which requires law enforcement agencies to obtain approval from a county’s board of supervisors prior to taking certain actions relating to the funding, acquisition, or use of military equipment.”

Such equipment, he explained, now can be used “when risk of loss of life to members of the public or officers are imminent and outweighs any other force option available to the SFPD.”

But, Rutherford warned, there’s inadequate definitions for risk, “imminent,” and how in any situation it is decided that the level of risk outweighs other options.

“This vagueness appears to leave the decision entirely to the police department, which could miscalculate the risk or apply a low standard for the risk requirement, thereby further endangering the citizenry,” the letter explained.

Further, Whitehead explained, “At least out of SFPD’s and the city’s self-interest financially, qualified immunity might not provide protection from liability for excessive force or innocent persons harmed by these robots.

“Justice Clarence Thomas has asked why government officials ‘who have time to make calculated choices about enacting or enforcing unconstitutional policies, receive the same protection as a police officer who makes a split-second decision to use force in a dangerous setting?’ Since police officers’ lives will not be at any potential or perceived risk of harm when remotely operating an armed robot, they and the city should be exposed to greater liability for their miscalculations and harms caused by the excessive use of force.”

The city’s police force acquired 12 robots from 2010 to 2017 which already are in use, and are deployed to assess bomb situations or help in low visibility circumstances.

Crime has surged in San Francisco since 2020, and there now smash-and-grab robberies are common.

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