Taser trouble

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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.