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News + PoliticsPoliceSF cops haven't disclosed the latest in military gear they may be...

SF cops haven’t disclosed the latest in military gear they may be using

State law requires information that the supes didn't get; are we going back to killer robots?

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The San Francisco Police Department has failed to update the supervisors and the public on the use of military equipment, in apparent violation of state law, Sup Dean Preston announced Tuesday.

The killer robots that the supes rejected. Are they back?

In a formal letter of inquiry to the cops, Preston noted that AB 481 requires

An annual military equipment report for each type of military equipment approved by the governing body within one year of approval, and annually thereafter for as long as the military equipment is available for use. The law enforcement agency shall also make each annual military equipment report required by this section publicly available on its internet website for as long as the military equipment is available for use.

This is a big deal: Not long ago, the cops were trying to use killer robots, and since they had to disclose that program, the supes held hearings, and in the end, rejected the idea that a machine could use lethal force against humans.

A measure promoted by Mayor London Breed, and passed by the voters in a flurry of media coverage of a false crime narrative, allows the cops to use all sorts of new technology without approval by the supes. That’s pretty scary; among other things, it would undermine SF’s Sanctuary City policy.

But state law still mandates annual disclosure and review—and in 2023, that didn’t happen, Preston says:

While SFPD submitted a policy that the Board of Supervisors approved in December 2022, it has not complied with the requirement that it submit a new report within one year of approval, and despite my office’s repeated requests for information about the status of the report, the Department has not provided any estimated timeframe for its compliance.

This will become an item for a hearing at the Government Audit and Oversight Committee at some point in the future.

But for now, it raises a critical point: Can the cops, for example, use Prop. E as a justification to start implementing killer robots, and then report on their impact later (after, potentially, they have fired lethal rounds and killed people)?

What kind of drone surveillance is the department doing right now?

What other spy tech (and there’s a lot of it out there) is SFPD using without telling the public?

Preston:

We may not all agree what the appropriate military equipment is for local law enforcement, but we should be able to all agree that transparency and compliance with the law matters.

I reached out to SFPD media relations, and have heard nothing back. 

48 Hills welcomes comments in the form of letters to the editor, which you can submit here. We also invite you to join the conversation on our FacebookTwitter, and Instagram

Tim Redmond
Tim Redmond
Tim Redmond has been a political and investigative reporter in San Francisco for more than 30 years. He spent much of that time as executive editor of the Bay Guardian. He is the founder of 48hills.

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