|In 2021, California passed Assembly Bill 481, 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. The law also requires local law enforcement agencies to list and define the authorized uses of all military-grade equipment in their possession. Pursuant to that requirement, a proposed use of equipment policy was submitted to the San Francisco Board of Supervisors by the San Francisco Police Department. The SFPD has more than a dozen functioning, remote controlled robots, which are used to gain situational awareness, survey specific areas officers may not be able to reach, as well as investigate and defuse potential bombs, or aid in hostage negotiations. However, the robots are not presently outfitted with lethal force options.
In presenting an amended policy to the Board of Supervisors, the SFPD is seeking approval to arm its robots and use them as deadly force options “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.” Yet as Rutherford Institute attorneys warn in their letter to the Board of Supervisors, the proposed policy does not quantify the level of risk required to be considered imminent and outweighing any other force option, nor does the policy set forth an objective means for how to assess and determine that risk. 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 Rutherford Institute, a nonprofit civil liberties organization, provides legal assistance at no charge to individuals whose constitutional rights have been threatened or violated and educates the public on a wide spectrum of issues affecting their freedoms.
The Rutherford Institute’s letter to the Board of Supervisors for San Francisco is available at www.rutherford.org.