OPINION: The case against Tasers

They often don't work, when they do they can be deadly -- and they don't stop cops from shooting people

On Friday, November 3, 2017 at 5:00 p.m. at City Hall the San Francisco Commission will be holding its last public hearing on purchasing stun guns for San Francisco police officers. Although there has been much discussion on the topic, there remain many misconceptions about the weapon under consideration and its potential impact on policing in the city. 

I’ve heard many people – young and old – say that they’d rather be stunned than shot with a bullet. This is a logical response. Unfortunately it’s based on misunderstandings about how conducted electrical weapons (CEWs) work.

The Taser x2 is not well tested

Even the San Francisco Officers Association (POA) has repeatedly asserted after officer-involved shootings that SF police officers need CEWs to use as an alternative to guns. 

To be clear, CEWs cannot be substitutes for guns because there are inherent limitations in how they function that render them unreliable for being used in deadly force situations. 

The leading manufacturer of CEWs specifically states in its training materials, “CEWs do NOT replace deadly-force options.” Most departments that have CEWs instruct officers NOT to use them in deadly force situations because they cannot be relied upon to stop a threat.  Many factors can cause the CEW be ineffective – how thick the person’s clothing is, whether both probes hit the person, and whether the CEWs electrical charge captures enough muscle to incapacitate, to name a few.

The law permits officers to use their firearms in deadly-force circumstances, which involve a threat of death or great bodily harm. The manufacturer’s training materials advise officers that the optimal range for CEW deployment is seven to 15 feet. To use a CEW in a situation in which an individual is armed or violent or aggressive would require the officer to be just seven to 15 feet from the individual. Alarmingly, CEWs have been found to fail often, in fact the Los Angeles Police Department (LAPD) reported a 47% failure rate in 2015

The SFPD adopted a new Use of Force policy in December 2016 stating the commitment to accomplish the “mission with respect and minimal reliance on the use of force by using rapport-building communication, crisis intervention, and de-escalation tactics” including time and distance. Bringing in a weapon that requires officers to be within seven to 15 feet of an aggressive individual would undermine the tenets of the policy and the training that has been instituted. And, should the weapon fail, officers would be in jeopardy and would have no choice but to escalate to lethal force.

In considering adopting CEWs it is prudent to ask, “Have CEWs been shown to stop or reduce officer-involved shootings in other law enforcement agencies?” Recent reports from Los Angeles and San Jose, both cities that have deployed CEWs for many years, register significant numbers of officer-involved shootings. LAPD reports 34 officer-involved shootings to date in 2017, and San Jose registered its eighth officer-involved shooting in September. CEWs clearly do not prevent officers from using guns.

has had ongoing issues with disparate use of force, including deadly force, on persons of color. The findings of the DOJ Collaborative Reform Assessment of the SFPD and the Blue Ribbon Panel Report detail racial inequalities in many areas from stops, searches, and arrests, to officer-involved shootings.

San Francisco is not the only city with disproportionate use of force patterns.  Other cities that have similar problems report disparities in officer-involved shootings as well as CEW use.  For example, a 2016 Chicago study documented that Chicago officers shot and used CEWs on African Americans at disturbing rates, and a Houston study reported that CEWs were used disproportionately on African Americans. 

The question of CEW efficacy is further complicated by the fact that the weapon under consideration for purchase by at this time, the Taser x2, is a new model that has had very little study or research to verify its reliability. The City of Houston has had several incidents that raise serious questions about the Taser x2.  A lawsuit filed this year by Houston Officer Karen Taylor after she was severely injured in a failed Taser x2 incident details how the newer CEWs, while possibly less dangerous to suspects than previous models, are more risky for officers because they are less effective. In one weekend in March, 2016, in three separate incidents Houston officers shot suspects after failed Taser x2 deployments. 

Tragically, CEWs, the “less lethal” weapons, kill far too often. In a series published this past summer a Reuters Report examines 1,005 deaths since 2000 involving Tasers and states, “Many who die are among society’s vulnerable – unarmed, in psychological distress and seeking help.” In the city of San Jose alone there have been eight deaths after CEWs have been used – some linked to the CEWs, and some from other contributing factors. In all of the cases, use of the CEW did not result in safely taking a suspect into custody. 

Would we support our city purchasing new, untested cars for employee use that reputedly fail nearly 50% of the time, that randomly kill people (particularly vulnerable populations and people of color) even when used as directed, and would certainly result in costly lawsuits? Of course not.

Before obtaining a new problematic weapon that would most likely be used disproportionately on people of color and vulnerable populations, the city and the must focus on de-escalation of force and ensuring that policing in San Francisco is equitable and fair and functions at the stated “highest priority (of) safeguarding the life, dignity and liberty of all persons.”  SFPD General Order 5.01 Use of Force

 

Barbara Attard is a police accountability consultant, former president of the National Association for Civilian Oversight of Law Enforcement (NACOLE), and co-author of the Police Misconduct Complaint Investigations Manual

  • Frank N. Blunt

    Injury, torture, persecution, & injustice still happen despite espousing rights & supposed rule of law both easily exploited, neglected, violated & abused amid dishonest conniving hypocrisy, systemic corruption, kleptocracy & outright evil in ScAmerika.
    In Kaliforniya & kleptocracy Scam Dog CA, truth is suppressed about injury, injustice, abuse, human & civil rights violations, negligence, other harm & crime so access & exposure among issues or control as much a matter? No protections here amid dishonest hypocrisy, corruption & outright evil causing & indulging the harm then covering it up with fraud misinforming distracting propaganda & ignoring the abuses & disparity even exploiting them.
    Beware, expose, confront, & resolve kleptocracy along with complicit cronies & shills promoting disparity, indulging abuse, exploitation & neglect of people, profiting from aberrant socio-economic conditions, injustice, & people enduring grave harm … systemic corruption & outright evil.
    An honorable US Navy retiree providing absolute truth & exposing much blatant evidence of injuries, negligence, abuse, harm, theft, malfeasance, fraud, other crimes & violations using this Facebook medium but exploited & ignored by those supposedly meant to alleviate disparity, prevent homelessness, provide medical treatment, protect, support, other purported purpose … my consideration to those truly enduring legitimate difficulties & fortunately getting any deserved aid that has not been provided to me, wasn’t any natural disaster affecting me but malevolence & abuse indulged by conniving corruption & outright evil; further exposes & verifies the disparity, injustice, conniving dishonest hypocrisy corruption kleptocracy & worse indulged & promoted by ScAmerika.
    https://m.facebook.com/groups/996044080457069?ref=bookmarks

  • Frank N. Blunt

    Electrical weapons are harmful & lethal, also exploited, but abuse is covered up & truth suppressed by abusive volatile terrorist agents of kleptocracy & systemic corruption.
    Look into Ohm’s Law, electrical hazards, skin conductivity under varying conditions, & other matters beside the prevalent dishonesty in ScAmerika promoting kleptocracy & indulging abusive harmful thieving corruption harming people, forsaking protections, violating rights …
    Injury, torture, persecution, & injustice still happen despite espousing rights & supposed rule of law both easily exploited, neglected, violated & abused amid dishonest conniving hypocrisy, systemic corruption, kleptocracy & outright evil in ScAmerika.
    In Kaliforniya & kleptocracy Scam Dog CA, truth is suppressed about injury, injustice, abuse, human & civil rights violations, negligence, other harm & crime so access & exposure among issues or control as much a matter? No protections here amid dishonest hypocrisy, corruption & outright evil causing & indulging the harm then covering it up with fraud misinforming distracting propaganda & ignoring the abuses & disparity even exploiting them.
    Beware, expose, confront, & resolve kleptocracy along with complicit cronies & shills promoting disparity, indulging abuse, exploitation & neglect of people, profiting from aberrant socio-economic conditions, injustice, & people enduring grave harm … systemic corruption & outright evil.
    An honorable US Navy retiree providing absolute truth & exposing much blatant evidence of injuries, negligence, abuse, harm, theft, malfeasance, fraud, other crimes & violations using this Facebook medium but exploited & ignored by those supposedly meant to alleviate disparity, prevent homelessness, provide medical treatment, protect, support, other purported purpose … wasn’t any natural disaster affecting me but malevolence & abuse indulged by conniving corruption & outright evil; further exposes & verifies the disparity, injustice, conniving dishonest hypocrisy corruption kleptocracy & worse indulged & promoted by ScAmerika.
    https://m.facebook.com/groups/996044080457069?ref=bookmarks

    • Tony

      Feel free to rant.

      • Frank N. Blunt

        Yes, you may feel free to remain ignorant but not free to indulge or participate in causing injury, abuse, & harm or steal & violate people. Which are you?

    • Chim Cham

      No this is true. Everybody in the US is racist and complicit in suppressing the poor for their own personal gain (except me). Read about it in the blog post liberalreactinary.blogspot.org. The government practices mind control on people from a remote ivory tower in Wichita. Recently the government mind controlled two women into running at each other full speed and head butting each other so hard that their heads exploded and they got stuck together. The police having tazers enables the government to fry people’s brains so that they become especially tuned to the government mind control frequencies.

  • Geek__Girl

    It seems simple to me. The police can have these weapons when they agree to strict guidelines that forbid using them as “compliance weapons.” That is, they cannot be used to torture someone. For example, the shooting of Oscar Grant was supposedly an accident that occurred when the officer mistakenly pulled his handgun instead of his Taser. Grant was restrained, by several officers, and was hardly a threat. He was struggling, but he was being controlled. Using a Taser seems a bit much. An officer was angry that the suspect would not comply meekly, and decided, perhaps, “to teach him a lesson.” That would not have been an appropriate use of a Taser. Tasers can be useful in the right place, or they can simply be a way of abusing people that requires less effort than, oh say, having a bunch of cops wailing on some guy like they did with Rodney King.

    • SF Sunset Guy

      compliance doesn’t necessarily equate to torture.

      The decision to authorize these weapons isn’t up to you. The Police Commission decides if these weapons are appropriate. Grant was being restrained by one officer, assisted by another. You don’t know what state of mind the officer had, whether he was “angry” or was going to “teach someone a lesson” unless you’re a mind-reader. Grant was resisting arrest, as I understand it and was apparently reaching for his waistband. Mehserle shot him in the back with his gun when he confused the gun for the taser. What does Rodney King have to do with this?

      • Geek__Girl

        Well, I find the claim that he “mistook” his gun for his Taser a bit odd. They are so different it would be near impossible to make such a mistake. Size, weight, appearance, are all quite different. I don’t know what Mehserle was thinking, but his behavior was unacceptable.

        And the Rodney King was a classic example of police brutality. The police got away with it in terms of criminal charges mainly because their lawyers repeatedly showed the video in slow motion, which downplayed the nature of the act. They were simply beating the crap out of King for no valid reason. Giving police Tasers without proper restrictions is just giving them a dangerous toy that they will abuse.

        • Chim Cham

          We as a community need to micromanage everything the police do. I am demanding that the police not be allowed to take a step unless they fill out the proper forms and documentation and have it approved by the Homelss outreach committee, the human rights committee, the mayors office, the DPW, the SFMTA, BART, MUNI, the SFFD, the SFPD, the OPP (yeah you know me) and so forth.

          • Geek__Girl

            No, we just need to hold the police accountable to the law, and to the U.S. Constitution, which I realize you bitterly despise. That, and remove any officers who are incapable of respecting the rights of ALL citizens. As in, kick their sorry asses to the curb.

  • Chim Cham

    I am an undocumented transgender activist of color, and a professor of transgender studies at CCSF, so I am especially qualified to comment and mandate how police conduct business. The police, who are racist sexist misogynist transphobic who murder over 100000 people of color every year in San Francisco, should not have tazers. They should not even have guns. They should not have even have sticks shoes or pants. Because as soon as you start giving them things they are going to start targeting people of color. Tazers are racist even. Did you know that white people are immune to tazers? It’s true. When you shoot tazars at white people, it makes them stronger and gives them more energy, which they then use to target people of color. Tazers hurt people of color and if you taze them too long, they will explode in a fireball of flame and clothing. That’s why I hate tazers and I hate cops and I hate America because its racist here. America is the worst country ever. I plan to move to Russia because in Russia you can say and do whatever you want there and they aren’t racist or sexist or transphobic and will be especially welcoming to people like me.