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Tuesday, July 27, 2021

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News + PoliticsPolice Commission set to discuss the effectiveness of tasers

Police Commission set to discuss the effectiveness of tasers

No voting yet but the Commission will be hearing from several experts tonight

It’s back to tasers at the Police Commission where a working group is set to present its findings at Wednesday’s meeting. The city has been debating whether to arm police officers with tasers (a.k.a stun guns) in an effort to decrease shootings. 

The debate has been ongoing for several years. 

The working group is headed by Police Commissioner Sonia Malera and has been looking at the debate around equipping SFPD officers with tasers. 

The San Francisco Police Department is the last major city force in the country without Tasers. Proposals in the past have been repeatedly criticized and turned down by local community members despite pushback from the officers’ union.  

The major concern expressed against tasers in the past has been about deaths and serious bodily harm. Proponents have argued that the devices could give officers another choice short of pulling a firearm and thus could lead to fewer shootings.

At the Wednesday meeting, however, a slightly different question will come up: Are tasers effective and if so what role can they play in a dangerous escalating situation?

The Former Chief Greg Suhr was a big proponent of using tasers and suggested it could help prevent officers from using lethal force. Police Commissioner Petra DeJesus has long opposed the use of tasers: “I think it is seen as that the Tasers are being given as a reward for the shootings and I think that is the perception that is out there, I think taser is not the answer right now,” DeJesus said on a panel during the criminal justice summit last year. 

SFPD’s Chief Bill Scott has said he supports tasers and the Police Officer’s Union has made similar arguments. Making a case for tasers being an effective tool for officers to use instead of lethal force. 

Michael Leonesio, a retired Oakland officer, who is scheduled to present at the Commission tonight thinks that tasers could be a “cold weapon” and isn’t convinced it is as effective as proponents expect it to be. Leonesio, oversaw the department’s roll-out of tasers and will be sharing his insights tonight. 

The presentation by the working group is part of the Police Commission’s ongoing effort to implement the recommendations by the U.S Justice Department.

In October last year, the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) Office of Community Oriented Policing Services (COPS Office) published a set of recommendations after an in-depth assessment of the SFPD one of which was that San Francisco should: “should strongly consider deploying ECWs (electronic control weapons a.k.a tasers)” 

Not without caution though, the recommendation also said that the: “SFPD and the Police Commission should make an informed decision based on expectations, sentiment, and information from top experts in the country” and this is where the process is at currently. 

The commission is also expected to hear from Matt Masters, a 19-year veteran of the Kansas City Police Department, who was an ardent believer in the effectiveness of tasers until his 18-year old son Bryce Masters became a victim. 

Bryce was tased in the chest by Timothy Runnels, a 32-year-old former Independence, Missouri, police officer, during a traffic stop which resulted in a cardiac arrest and permanent brain injury. 

A Los Angeles Times review of the Los Angeles Police Department’s statements and reports found that nearly a quarter of the people shot by on-duty LAPD officers in 2015 — at least eight of 36 — were either wounded or killed during encounters in which LAPD officers said they tried to use a Taser unsuccessfully.

In other instances: “LAPD officers fired Tasers just over 1,100 times last year (2015), according to a Department report published last month (Feb 2016). The devices had the desired outcome — causing someone to submit to arrest — only 53 percent of the time.”

Axon (formerly known as Taser International) is now pushing for tasers that generate a low current to prevent serious injuries or death. Steve Tuttle, Axon’s CEO, told an audience during last year’s public defender’s summit that the toolbox given to police officers: “contains a baton and that baton is used to beat somebody into submission, prior to that it was pepper spray, chokeholds, and K9s” he argued that tasers would be a lot safer option than the alternatives. 

The Police Commission will not be voting on whether the Department should acquire tasers tonight and are expected to hold at least two community meetings prior to the vote. 

[Full disclosure: 48hills co-sponsored a showing of the movie “Killing them Safely,” a documentary about Tasers, last year] 


Sana Saleem
Sana Saleem is a writer with a focus on social justice and human stories. She's member board of advisory for the Courage Foundation, Edward Snowden's legal defense fund.
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  1. Look, this isn’t about improvement of anything by outfitting the SFPD with ANOTHER WEAPON. The SFPD needs BETTER TRAINING IN DE-ESCALATION tactics NOT MORE WEAPONS. See you at the next SF Police Commissioner meeting after Independence Day. Bill Scott, you’re going down.

  2. AFAIK, bully clubs are less lethal than Tazers. And I suspect that takers would be easier to use than a club. I don’t like the fact that cops might feel emboldened to indiscriminately use them in place of pistols.

    So, if they are going to arm cops with tazers, then I would demand that every single usage undergo the same protocol as a fire-arm usage. Police reports, use-of-force reviews, and of course body-cam footage.

    And, BTW, what is the punishment for fleeing from an officer? Seems like nearly everyone does it; it annoys the officers (sometimes to retaliate), and if it were curtailed, might make for less violence from the police. But of course, there must be some dis-incentive to doing it.

  3. Thanks, at last night hearing it did seem that the public sentiment towards taser is changing. It was surprising as so far we have only heart criticism mostly. We’d put up a report shortly.

  4. I’m as progressive as anyone and I can’t believe that this is still being discussed. Implement Tasers already. How many Mario Woods do we have to see needlessly murdered by SFPD before we go the route of ‘harm reduction’ with Tasers?

    So 25% or however still may end up getting killed? Isn’t that an improvement? And is anyone saying that implementing Tasers is the final step in reducing needless police killings? Because if they are, they should be fired.

    Allow use of the Tasers NOW. Monitor their use and outcomes. And continue to work to eliminate police killings and racist laws, racist law enforcement and the racist judicial system.

    We can chew gum and walk at the same time.

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