Police Commission approves Tasers

Now the battle moves to the Board of Supes, which will have to approve funding for the dangerous stun guns

Despite a strong plea from its president, who asked that the city’s new use-of-force policies be given a chance to work, the SF Police Commission vote 4-3 last night to equip officers with Tasers.

The dramatic, late-night vote was on a straight San Francisco party line, with all of the members appointed by the mayor supporting the stun guns and all of the members appointed by the Board of Supervisors in opposition.

The Taser x2 is largely untested in the field

The battle will now move to the board, which will have to appropriate in the 2018 budget the roughly $3 million it will cost to buy the Tasers and train officers in their use.

That doesn’t include the money that the city could lose in lawsuits and legal settlements over the devices, which have a long history of problems.

Experts who testified before the commission pointed out that African American and Latino people are far more likely to get hit with the stun guns, and that they have been used in many jurisdictions on people with mental illness, although the manufacturer warns that Tasing mentally ill people can lead to serious problems including death.

For more than four hours, members of the public, most opposed to Tasers, testified about the dangers of the devices.

Petra DeJesus, Bill Ong Hing, and President Julius Turman – all appointed by the board — all spoke sttongly and eloquently, urging their colleagues not to add a new weapon to the police arsenal. Turman pointed out that the department is finally starting to make progress on a new use-of-force policy, that community relations are slowly improving – and that a vote in favor of Tasers would set back all the work that has been done.

And yet, with Police Chief Bill Scott (and presumably the mayor who hired him) in favor, the four mayoral votes fell in line.

The department can’t start using Tasers until December, 2018 – which means that the next city budget will have to include money for them.

“This will turn into a budget fight,” Sup. Hillary Ronen, who opposes Tasers, told me.

“I couldn’t be more proud of Petra, Bill, and Julius, their courage and their clarity,” Ronen said.

It will also quite possibly be an issue in the District 8 race this spring. Rafael Mandelman, who has the support of most of the progressive community, is challenging mayoral appointee Jeff Sheehy.

Mandelman would be the sixth vote for the progressives on the board – enough, if he decided to oppose funding Tasers, to potentially threaten the program.

Sheehy didn’t respond to my question about his position on the stun guns. Mandelman told me that he wasn’t yet entirely familiar with the issue, but “from what I know, it is not the most effective tool” for law enforcement. He said was inclined to oppose Tasers.

The issue could also easily wind up on the ballot.

14 COMMENTS

  1. In order not to get sued, the Taser manufacturer has a list of usage restrictions so long as to render them useless if their recommendations are followed. One of these is that they are not to be used on someone who is in an excited mental state. Another is that they are to be used from a particular distance — I believe this is seven feet — in order to cause the temporary paralysis they are meant to cause. Otherwise they only cause pain. Officers use them at closer distances and, thinking they are ineffective, shoot the Taser repeatedly, often causing cardiac arrest.

  2. Oh, I fully support accountability. And I do understand your concern about Tasers being normalized to the point of being seen like giving a child candy to calm them.

    And you got me thinking – maybe we need to get a citizens initiative on the ballot to get something accomplished.

  3. I totally see your point, and that was always the thinking behind including Tasers as part of an officer’s de-escalization tools, but I think PDs have gotten lazy, using the Taser as a “safe”, easy go-to.

    How about better accountability, then, when a Taser is pulled and utilized?

    If a private citizen can be charged with using a deadly weapon when they use a Taser, shouldn’t we treat Taser use by the PD much in the same way we treat gun use — full investigation if shots are fired?

  4. If tasers are not effective then I agree, the cops should kill someone who is a threat to their or public safety. Or at least shoot until he is no longer a threat. I would rather have a gun than a taser.

  5. I agree with others that the long-term goal should be an educated and disciplined police force that doesn’t see killing someone as the only option.

    But, until we can achieve that, I think that tasers fit in with a ‘harm reduction’ approach, and I support using them for now.

    For all the purists with good intentions, it seems like you’d also say that we shouldn’t invest in therapies that prolong the live of those with HIV/AIDS or cancer because those therapies are not a cure.

    To those against the use of tasers, I invite you to ask the relatives of Alex Nieto, Mario Woods and others killed by SFPD what they prefer. While some may die from being tazed, most will not. Given that about 50% of those gunned down by SFPD have mental illness issues, this certainly will save some lives.

    And to city politicians who have had years to mandate education and other objectives to stop the killing, shame on you. I know that having the police union on your side during an election is important, but is that more important then people being killed?

    Ed Lee was hounded by protesters for a few weeks, and then the protesters closed the Bay Bridge for about an hour. After that, he called for a federal investigation into Mario Woods death and said that it looked like death by firing squad. Maybe that is the only way to bring change – disrupt city business in every department until something is done.

    You want to blame police? Fine. But we don’t elect police. Make our elected officials accountable. If they do not allow tasers, they should be required to immediately provide an actionable plan for ending the needless killings by SFPD.

  6. Obviously I’d rather be tased than shot. In other news, I’d rather get salmonella than the plague. I’d also rather be waterboarded than burned at the stake.

    The point is that it’s a false choice. Cops need to learn to de-escalate situations, and tasers are a step backwards. In the current police culture, having another weapon with which to sadistically torture people, just makes them more likely to sadistically torture people.

  7. If I had a choice I would rather be tased than shot. I really don’t know if tasers are any good but If I were being attacked I would choose a gun over a taser. And a big gun is better than a small gun. In the Army I was issued a 45 because they found that a 38 would not stop a large man charging you with a knife. Even if he were fatally shot, his momentum could get to you. On the other hand, the 45 would stop him in his tracks.

  8. I’m really disappointed with this. Tasers are a bad, bad idea. Let’s hope they don’t get funded.

    The money would be far better invested in educating police forces on de-escalation techniques, community outreach, IMO.

  9. Reductio ad absurdum doesn’t apply here. Guns are meant to kill and grievously injure. Supposedly tasers do neither. Well if that’s really the case, then what’s the problem? What do they have to fear?

  10. Anyone who votes for tasers should first have it tried on them, so they can understand what kind of sadistic torture they’re condoning.

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