A Talon robot, one of the models in the SFPD robot lineup.
Enlarge / A Talon robot, one of the models in the SFPD robot lineup.

The San Francisco Board of Supervisors voted to allow the San Francisco Police Department to use lethalrobots against suspects. When lives are at stake, the robot would use explosives to kill or incapacitate suspects.

Bomb disposal robots have been used by the police ever since the Dallas Police Department opened a box of weapons to use on them. After unsuccessful negotiations with a holed-up active shooter, the DPD wired up a robot with explosives and drove it to the suspect, who was killed by the robot. This tactic can now be made by the SFPD.

The police equipment policy being drafted details the SFPD's current robot lineup. The SFPD has 17 robots in total, 12 of which are currently functioning. The AP says that the police department doesn't have any "pre-armed" robots yet and "has no plans to arm robots with guns" but that it could rig up explosives to a robot. Some bomb disposal robots do their "disposal" work by firing a shotgun shell at the bomb, so in essence, they are already rolling guns. Like most police gear, these robots have close ties to the military, and some of the bomb disposal robots owned by the SFPD, like the Talon robot, are also sold to the military configured as remote-controlled machine-gun platforms.

Allison Maxie, a spokeswoman for the SFPD, told the AP that explodingrobots would only be used in extreme circumstances to save or prevent further loss of innocent lives.


The ability to kill community members remotely is dehumanizing and militaristic according to a letter sent to the San Francisco Board of Supervisors by the San Francisco Public Defenders office. Virginia, Maine, and North Dakota have banned weaponizedrobots, and Oakland backed away from an armed robot program after public backlash. The NYPD shut down the program after the public uproar began.

The new policy was approved by the board of supervisors.