Cops push stunning ballot measure to allow Tasers

POA measure would override civilian oversight, force the city to spend millions on dangerous stun guns, and undermine the new Use of Force policies. Why isn't everyone at City Hall opposing this?

The San Francisco Police Officers Association – the folks who have opposed every major effort at reforming the department – has put up $80,000 so far to pay for signature gathering for a ballot measure that would completely undermine civilian oversight of local policing and mandate that the city spend millions of dollars buying Tasers for every officer.

The measure is stunning both in concept and in policy: It would allow the POA to force on the city a weapon that the Police Commission has already debated for years and has agreed to phase in slowly, with proper oversight.

The Taser x2, which the cops want to force the city to buy, is largely untested in the field.

It would require the mayor and the supervisors to fund the purchase of the controversial devices with additional money from the General Fund. It would override the ability of the commission and the chief to set policy for how and when Tasers can be used.

And it would directly contradict the approach that the chief, the commission, and many community advocates have come to accept as the basis of the department’s Use of Force Policy: The notion that officers should first try to de-escalate and defuse situations before resorting to potentially lethal weapons.

There are paid signature-gatherers on the streets today with petition for what’s called “The Safer Policing Initiative.” According to records with the Department of Elections and Ethics Commission, it’s sponsored by the Community Alliance for Jobs and Housing, a downtown-backed group that includes some of the more conservative labor unions. Yimby Action is a member. So is SPUR.

Gary Delagnes, the former president of the POA, who has a history of defending racist and violent cops, is the group’s secretary.

Laura Clark, executive director of Yimby Action, told me that her group is not supporting the measure:

We have not voted to support that initiative, and we sporadically take different positions than the coalitions we are a part of. I think that’s pretty normal.

Personally, I’ve seen data that indicates that when police forces get tasers it does not bring down the number of shootings, but instead creates a new category of situations that are now tase-able, that used to be resolved non-violently. I think that analysis is compelling. I think there might be room to move from guns to only tasers, or to do a program that involves a lot more training and linking the tasers to mandatory reductions in the use of guns. Because these provisions are not in the current initiative, I am not supporting it.

I haven’t yet heard from SPUR. [UPDATE SPUR’s executive director, Gabriel Metcalf, told me that the POA ballot measure “will be going through the SPUR ballot analysis process, along with all the other ballot measures. We don’t have a position till then.”

The city’s been debating tasers for years. For the most part, the Police Commission has been wary about the devices, which have a long history of misuse and are, in fact, not “non-lethal.”

In the wake of a series of police shootings that led to the resignation of former Chief Greg Suhr, the commission sought input from national experts, who reached a series of policy recommendations. Among them – and at the top of the list of most modern policing policies – is the idea that officers should be trained in de-escalation techniques and should seek solutions to conflicts that don’t involve shooting anyone.

The current chief, Bill Scott, agrees with that concept.

The Police Commission agreed this fall to allow officers to carry tasers – but not until the de-escalation program and the new Use of Force policy is fully implemented. That would be December, 2018 at the earliest. And the Board of Supes would still have to allocate money for the stun guns.

I’m against giving cops tasers under any circumstances; they’ll be abused and wind up hurting and killing people. But at least the commission took a measured, reasonable approach.

This initiative would throw that entire community process, and the idea that a civilian commission gets to decide on Use of Force politics, out the window.

It would also take away from the supes the ability to decide that this is not something the city wants to prioritize for funding.

But between the POA’s money and money that I suspect will come in from Taser International, the company that makes the so-called Conductive Energy Devices, this measure could pass – unless every elected official and credible community group in town comes out against it.

So far, the response from City Hall has been pretty quiet.

The initiative states that the department must “purchase enough CEDs to provide every uniformed officer with a CED.” The money would have to come from the General Fund – so this is, in effect, a police set-aside.

The officers – on the basis of a ballot measure – would have the right to use tasers whenever they believe someone is “actively resisting” or “exhibiting any action likely to result” in injury to an “officer, themselves, or another person.”

The Police Commission guidelines are more likely to state that a taser can only be used after de-escalation techniques have been attempted and officers who are trained to defuse situations and deal with mentally-ill people have been brought onto the scene.

The policy that would be mandated by this initiative – which could not be changed except by a four-fifth vote at the Board of Supervisors – would allow individual officers wide discretion to zap suspects.

I’m pretty sure that in the 35 years I’ve been covering San Francisco, the voters have never approved a ballot measure that allows the cops to override civilian policy on the use of lethal force. It’s frightening to think about what could happen if this succeeds.

And so far, there has been very little news media attention.

Keep this in mind when you meet someone on the street with a ballot measure that talks about “safe policing.”

  • curiousKulak

    Yeah, I declined to sign this. Even though it was pointed out that every instance was to be recorded and investigated as use of force (like pulling a gun is), I don’t see the need to rush something like this.

    And, of course, I’ve really gotten turned off my ‘citizen’ initiatives.

    Perhaps my feeling will change if they got paid signature gatherers out of the equation. Hardly ‘citizens volunteering for a cause they believe in’, its a job with incentive to deceive. No thanx.

    • Geek__Girl

      I used to sign petitions. I felt like the voters should decide. Then people started putting truly absurd things on the ballot. And signature gathers became aggressive pests. I finally reached the breaking point, and “Just say no!” At both SF State and City College, walking across the campus was often spent dodging crowds of very aggressive paid gatherers armed to the teeth with a number of petitions. Lunch in the student center was often interrupted by some stranger plopping down at my table and asking me to start signing. I now refuse. I there is a petition I want to sign, I will seek it out, and do so, but not when it is shoved in my face as I exit Safeway, or am riding on Muni, or I am trying to eat my lunch.

  • Zhoosh

    Last Friday’s 48 Hills headline was “Newsom’s lawyer says SF voters are stupid”.

    Today’s headline is “Tim Redmond says SF voters are stupid”.

    • Geek__Girl

      Tomorrow’s headline is “Geek Girl saying Zhoosh is a complete moron.” Nowhere does Redmond say such a thing, whereas Newson’s lawyer did. So, first off, you are a liar. Second, the police are jonesing for their new toys. As I have said, many times, “Tasers would be a good thing, PROVIDED rules are in place that prohibit police from using them as compliance tools. They should only be used in situations where a firearm would be the only other alternative, and should be required in cases where they are a suitable choice.” A number of police shootings would have been more appropriately handled with Tasers, including some that should have been prosecuted. If a suspect has a knife, and is not in close enough proximity to an officer to use the knife, a Taser should be required. If a suspect is unarmed, and simply belligerent, a Taser should be forbidden. Simple. But that is NOT WHAT THE POLICE WANT. They want to be able to Taser citizens just for the fun of it. Punk mouths off? Taser him!!! Person of color looks at a cop the wrong way? Taser him!!! Just not feeling like making the effort to subdue someone? Taser him!!!! In a bad mood? Find someone, and Taser them!!!!! Just got your shiny new Taser? What are you waiting for, Taser someone!!!!!! New toy!!!!!!!

      • SF Sunset Guy

        “They want to be able to Taser citizens just for the fun of it.”

        You seriously expect to be taken as a credible opinion, while you bad mouth anyone with a difference of opinion to yours?

      • Tony

        I agree with you. Give ’em all Tasers, and make sure that they follow the rules.

        Sounds like you are voting YES with the police. Good show.

        • Geek__Girl

          But that is not what the police want. The rules need to be strict.

      • curiousKulak

        Can’t believe you’re agreeing with me.

        While I’m sure that a majority of cops won’t use it like a toy, I’ll bet far too many would use a Taser when perhaps a billy club would do; and perhaps *find* a use for it. Something about ‘guns’ that excites the American psyche – no sweat, no fuss, no muss.

        At any rate, a ballot measure is exactly the wrong way to do this. Any little change or adjustment is next to impossible – needing to go again before the voters. NO!

        • Zhoosh

          The Taser is a viable threat. You can shout “Stop resisting or I’ll tase you” and the guy might believe you. Not the same for shooting him.

          And as far as the ballot measure goes if we can vote on the height of specific buildings we can vote on this.

          • Geek__Girl

            The police want the pushed through as a ballot measure, because they have not conned the Police Commission into giving them permission to use Tasers with no real restrictions.

        • Geek__Girl

          I am not agreeing with you, though it appears you are agreeing with me on this one point. Tasers are not non-lethal. Just less lethal. They can be very easily abused. As you say, no sweat, no fuss, no muss. Suspect refuses to cooperate? Zap the suspect and be done with it. Suspect is clearly mentally ill? Zap the suspect and be done with it. Suspect mouths off, and insults you? Zap the suspect and be done with it. That’s the problem. Tasers are a tool, and they should be restricted like any other tool.

          • curiousKulak

            That (“agreeing…”) was said tongue-in-check; and I’m not going to argue with you.

            While the petition sez there will be safeguards/rules on reporting, I’d prefer those rules by done administratively (where their more easily adjusted) than legislatively via the ballot, where its a near certainty they will remain as written/adjudicted.

            Another issue that doesn’t need to be on the ballot.

          • Geek__Girl

            Well, we agree on that, and I believe this ploy by the POA to make an end run around civilian oversight shows exactly why we have to move cautiously on allowing Tasers.

  • jc

    “The San Francisco Police Officers Association… has put up $80,000 so far to pay for signature gathering for a ballot measure that would completely undermine civilian oversight”

    Isn’t a ballot measure the tantamount in civilian oversight? Why trust the opinion of the chosen few when you can have the entire SF voting population make the choice?

    New interim Mayor should be voted in by the citizens of SF riiiiiggghhht?

    • jc

      oh lest not forget the repeal of Costa Hawkins may be put on the ballot.

      http://www.beyondchron.org/democrats-push-repeal-costa-hawkins-ballot/

      • Geek__Girl

        So, they met Ed Chau’s price. Figures.

    • Geek__Girl

      Not necessarily. If the ballot measure if worded cleverly, the citizens may find they have bound themselves to a complete con. The police are not going to push a ballot measure that does not given the pretty much NO rules. That, effectively, undermines civilian oversight. Sort of like saying that electing Hitler preserved democracy in Germany.

      • jc

        Are you saying the voting pubic is too dumb to read a ballot? Maybe Newsom’s lawyer is correct. https://48hills.org/2018/01/newsom-says-sf-voters-stupid/

        • Geek__Girl

          No, I am saying that all too often the people behind ballot measures simply lie, and hide facts. They offer a simple explanation of what the ballot measure is supposed to do, with a catchy title, like “Housing Not Tents,” when it turns out that a) there is not really any housing beyond one night in a shelter, and then back to the street, and b) that the law is not even workable because in spite of it being for “one night” or a “bus ticket home,” the beds have to be available, which is very unlikely. The police are looking to get Tasers, and to lock in rules that will pretty much equate to “Have fun!”

  • Howard Epstein

    Why is San Francisco the major only city in America without tasers? Are the extreme left-wingers at Silly Hall who allow their radical ideology to trump common sense every time wiser than the leaders of every city in Americal with a population of over 150,000? There is no reason the SFPD can’t use de-escalation before tasers. Mario Woods would be alive today if the SFPD had tasers.

    • Howard,

      You digging our new Republican prez?

      I’m doubting Mario Woods would be alive if he’d been hit with 23 Tasers instead of 23 bullets.

      h.

      • Howard Epstein

        If the SFPD had Tasers he would only have been shot at 1 time. But nice try. It’s past time for SF officials to let common sense trump their extreme left-wing ideology that gets people killed.

        • Geek__Girl

          Really? You know that for a fact? Based on what?

          • Howard Epstein

            Based on people who really know wha they’re talking about rather than exteme left-wingers who legislate and regulate baed on their radical ideology and throw common sense out the window. Greg Suhr,and the POA among others.
            http://sanfrancisco.cbslocal.com/2016/02/11/sfpd-use-of-force-policy-mario-woods-tasers/

          • Geek__Girl

            Now that is hilarious. The POA basically want the cops free of any real controls. And sadly, Suhr didn’t seem to have the backbone to stand up to them.

      • Rosh HoshHosh

        Hard to predict who will die from tasers, but statistically we know it is bound to happen.

    • Geek__Girl

      The problem is, the police want to use Tasers in place of “de-escalation.” There is also no reason they can’t use de-escalation before opening fire. You can’t put a notch in your “de-escalation, but you can in your gun, and your Taser.”

  • Don Sebastopol

    All good points here. I am not sure how I am going to vote.I would generally agree to giving police the tools they need. However, if I had a choice I would prefer to be tased than shot, and if attacked I would prefer to have a gun than a taser.

    • Ragazzu

      Unfortunately, SFPD officers often show themselves to be incapable of restraint no matter what weapon they brandish. Would you rather be tased before you’re shot, or simply shot?

  • Campers,

    Let’s go to the voters for a really meaningful reform of our SFPD.

    Let’s make the Police Chief an elected position and give them the kinds of independent powers that the DA and the Public Defender have.

    I asked the present head of the POA (Marty Halloran) about it and he said they’d love to see the position on the ballot. So did his predecessor, Gary Delugnuts.

    We used to have an elected top cop in this town.

    Michael Hennessey had a poster for someone running for Police Chief in his office.

    Y’all remember Mike? 32 years Sheriff of this town and the best in the U.S. of A..

    It was Mike’s idea that top cop should be on the ballot …

    “It might take you several elections to find one who would live up to their campaign promises but once you get an honest one you can have meaningful changes.”

    That’s from a conversation at ‘Daly’s Dive’ which never went eponymous.

    • Tony

      Quoting Chris Daly – did his bar move to Fairfield, too?

      I like Mike – but he is 70 years old, collecting his $300K annual retirement package, and has been retired for 6 years. You need to find someone new to fantasize about.

  • Campers,

    Cops in Pacifica last evening were able to kill a very young man with one shot from a taster …

    https://patch.com/california/pacifica/man-who-died-after-police-tasing-idd

    h.