Taser trouble


You can say this for Police Chief George Gascon: He's not shy. He's pushing so many things, on so many fronts, that it's hard to keep track, and some of them are real problems. One example: The Feb. 17th Police Commission meeting, where Gascon paraded a bunch of experts to talk about how great it would be if the SF cops had tasers.

I'm not against tasers per se; I'd rather the cops were shooting people with less-lethal weapons than with pistols. Quite a few people might be alive today if the more trigger-happy among Gascon's force pulled a trigger that didn't send a deadly bullet into a suspect's body.

But you have to remember that a taser can be a lethal weapon, too; people die from taser blasts.

And when I talked to the folks in the SFPD public affairs office recently, they told me that the chief was drafting guidelines on the use of tasers, and that the taser would fall somewhere in between the use of a baton (non-lethal in all but the most exceptional cases) and a gun (lethal). That's the wrong approach -- and it's what's missing from Gascon's argument.

A cop is only allowed to pull a gun in a situation where lethal force is justified; that is, when the officer's life of the life of another person is in imminent danger. Same rules should go for the taser. That's where the commission has to come in, because I don't think Gascon is going to make that policy.

In fact, I'm getting the impression that the chief doesn't like anyone else to make policy for him. That's why he's got an oped in the Chronicle today that goes after two proposals from Sup. Ross Mirkarimi. Gascon:

The San Francisco Board of Supervisors has proposed two pieces of legislation that would directly impact my ability as chief to provide effective and efficient public safety. One of these pieces, which would establish a community-based foot-beat patrol program, directs subordinates under my command to establish staffing levels absent my direction or control. The second, which seeks to require the police department to itemize the cost of dignitary protection, would jeopardize the safety of public officials who receive valid threats against themselves or their loved ones. These legislative proposals directly circumvent my ability to lead this department effectively. This ultimately makes the goal of making San Francisco the safest large city in America more difficult to achieve.

Translation: I don't like the San Francisco supervisors setting law-enforcement policy. But actually, that's the board's job -- to set the rules for how all city departments, including the SFPD, operate.

I can't figure out why Gascon is fighting this foot-patrol legislation. He admits that foot patrols are a good idea and would solve a lot of crime problems. He just says he doesn't have the budget. So take that to Mirkarimi and the other board members; tell them you'll do foot patrols if they'll fund it. Discuss the police budget in open session with the Budget and Finance Committe (which Mirkarimi sits on) and look for ways to make it work.
That's how things get done in this city.


The issues surrounding tasers are not as straightforward as some taser proponents may suggest. In fact, Mr. Redmond (the writer of this article) does manage to avoid some of the logic traps (well done). Obviously, if tasers actually replaced guns then there wouldn't be an issue. Facts are that tasers are used about one-hundred times (roughly) as often as police guns. And many of the people that are tasered are non-violent. And some of those non-violent people "die" (are killed) because of the taser deployment. One doesn't need to be a monk to see the ethical issue of reducing the risk of death for the few violent and increase the risk of death for the many non-violent. It is a redistribution of risk-of-death that is evil at its core.

The Excited-Delirium blog has uncovered many ethical missteps made by the slick-talking stungun salesmen. One of those was today sentenced to 4 years in prison. Bernie Kerik was on the Board of Directors of Taser International for several years. His hubris-laced corruption during the same period is perhaps indicative of the ethical vacuum that exists within 'a certain company' that sells stunguns.

Posted by Excited-Delirium blog on Feb. 18, 2010 @ 2:40 pm

I don't know how they do things in Arizona. Maybe over there they like a tough man with a strong hand, who doesn't let pesky things like democracy, due process, and accountability get in the way of imposed order. Here in San Francisco, though, we've fought too hard and too long for those things for someone with a wild west cowboy mentality to come and take it all away just because he wants to.

I say, send him back to Phoenix, and take Newsom with him. Both of them clearly have no understanding of San Francisco values.

Posted by Greg on Feb. 18, 2010 @ 3:16 pm

I agree with Greg's comment.

Tasers should be banned. They have no place in this City or anywhere. I can see torture starting here in San Francisco because of cops on a power trip who shouldn't be on the SFPD to begin with. Nearly every week on one website or the other that I go to there is an article about someone who is now dead because they were tasered.

I agree, send Jorge Gascón back to Phoenix and Newsom with him. I wouldn't doubt that Newsom knew what this guy was about to begin with. Jorge Gascón, is really turning out to be quite a piece of work. He's reminding me of Mr "Change we can't believe in."

Will we ever get someone we can believe in?

Posted by Sam on Feb. 18, 2010 @ 7:07 pm

Here's a cheatsheet. Defend status quo above all else. Change nothing anywhere ever. When challenged, form a task force of civilians, make sure they spend all of their time examining the root causes.
How dare someone from outside SF, come here and try and get things done.
Who does he think he is? San Francisco is like no place in the universe, and requires a special set of rules. The quicker Gascon the carpetbagger realizes that the way we like getting things done is not at all, the better off he'll be.

Posted by Jimbo on Feb. 19, 2010 @ 3:52 pm

Opposed to change? Who made that blanket statement?

I like *positive* change and tasers are *not* positive change. The use of tasers = regressive/negative change.

Posted by Sam on Feb. 19, 2010 @ 5:18 pm

I've lived in SF for over two score, I'm a liberal, and think Gascon is a breath of fresh air in a exceedingly stale room. The havoc caused by progressives (supes who were elected as a reaction to Willie Brown's patronage politics) is coming to an end. Change is coming.

Posted by Guest on Mar. 03, 2010 @ 7:20 am