In the city of San Francisco officials have voted in favor of using potentially deadly remote-controlled robots by the city's police force in emergency situations, Al Jazeera reported.

Despite heavy opposition from civil liberties and other police oversight groups in the city on the US west coast, the measure was approved by a vote of 8-3 after a contentious two-hour debate.

According to the San Francisco Police Department (SFPD), there are no robots that are already armed and there are no intentions to arm robots with weapons. However, if lives are at risk, the agency may send out robots armed with explosive charges "to contact, incapacitate, or disorient violent, armed, or dangerous suspect," according to SFPD Spokesperson Allison Maxie.

“Robots equipped in this manner would only be used in extreme circumstances to save or prevent further loss of innocent lives,” she said.

Before it was approved, the proposal had been changed to make it clear that officers may only deploy robots after using all available force or de-escalation techniques or coming to the conclusion that they wouldn't be able to subdue the suspect through those alternate means. Only a select few senior officials have the authority to approve the use of robots as a form of lethal force.

Currently, the San Francisco police are in possession of a dozen functioning ground robots that are used to assess bombs or to provide eyes in low visibility situations, according to the department. They were acquired between 2010 and 2017.

In response to worries that the militarization of the police was fostering an environment among law enforcement that encouraged the use of excessive force, a new California law went into effect this year requiring police and sheriff's departments to inventory military-grade equipment and seek approval for its use.

The San Francisco Public Defender's office warned that giving police "the ability to kill community members remotely" went against the progressive values of the city in a letter earlier this week. The office requested that the board reinstate the clause that forbids police from utilizing robots against any person in an act of force.

On the other side of San Francisco Bay, the Oakland Police Department dropped a similar proposal after public backlash.

Representation image. Dose Media/Unsplash.

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