Police Commission braces for another Taser debate

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The proposal to equip SFPD officers with Tasers originated with former Police Chief George Gascon, now interim District Attorney
Photo by Charles Russo

The San Francisco Police Department, police commissioners, and community advocates are gearing up for another debate about whether or not SFPD officers should carry and use Tasers. The hearing will be held at tomorrow’s Feb. 23 police commission meeting.

Interim Police Chief Jeff Godown -- carrying forward a plan that originated with his predecessor, former police chief George Gascon -- called for a hearing on the Taser proposal, according to a Police Commission spokesperson. If it wins approval, the SFPD will begin conducting research to develop training and policy guidelines for the SFPD to implement Tasers. The issue has ignited fierce debate in the past, and resistance is likely to be revived on this go-round.

Last year, the commission rejected Gascon’s proposal to add Tasers to police officers’ use-of-force options. Now, Commissioner Angela Chan, who was appointed last year by the San Francisco Board of Supervisors after the proposal had been defeated, is emerging as a voice of dissent.

Chan submitted a handful of reports published by American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), Amnesty International, and other sources critical of Tasers for commissioners to review prior to the meeting. She’s also preparing a 45-minute presentation highlighting concerns about the weapons.

The SFPD will give its own 45-minute presentation to try and convince commissioners that it should be allowed to move forward with the plan this time. “It’s another tool for officers to use when encountering violent persons,” noted Sgt. Mike Andraychak, a police spokesperson.

Andraychak said it was too soon to provide any details about whether the Taser proposal would take the form of a pilot program, or be implemented all at once. He did not have specific information about how training would be developed, how the department planned to solicit input from various communities, or how long the department expected to be working on a draft policy if the police commission granted approval. Chak did note that if the SFPD moves forward, it may host town hall meetings about Tasers.

The Feb. 23 police commission meeting is likely to bring vociferous community opposition. The Coalition on Homelessness (COH) and a number of other community-based organizations are encouraging people to attend the meeting and speak during public comment.

In a letter submitted to the police commission, Asian and Southeast Asian Societies, Causa Justa (Just Cause), The Harvey Milk LGBT Democratic Club, COH, and other community advocates point out that Tasers have been declared a form of torture by a UN torture panel, and cite a University of Calfornia San Francisco study finding that police shootings more than doubled in the first full year of Taser implementation.

The community organizations also pointed out that Tasers are manufactured in Scottsdale, Ariz. -- and San Francisco is still boycotting Arizona for enacting SB 1070, a bill that has drawn widespread criticism for encouraging racial profiling. Meanwhile, in a lean budget year, the cost of implementing Tasers is estimated at around $2 million, according to the letter.

Despite being turned down last time, the department has revived its Taser proposal in the wake of two officer-involved shootings early this year, including one that struck a mentally ill, wheelchair-bound man who was brandishing a knife. That case came under scrutiny after it was caught on a phone camera and posted to YouTube.

Following that incident, Gascon suggested that the outcome may have been different if officers had the option of deploying Tasers.

Yet Allen Hopper, police practices director at the ACLU, questions the idea that deploying a Taser would have been the correct response in that circumstance -- especially in light of a recent Police Commission vote to strengthen SFPD practices when encountering people with mental illness. The Commission recently directed the SFPD to establish a Crisis Intervention Team (CIT), based on a policing model that emphasizes deescalation. Yet Hopper says deploying a Taser would achieve just the opposite.

"We think it's putting the cart before the horse to give the police Tasers before they put that plan into effect," Hopper said. People with mental-health problems, he added, are more likely to be on strong medication, or prone to excited emotional states and rapid heart rates -- all of which could place them at a higher risk for serious injury or even death if struck with a Taser.

Counted among a class of weapons called conducted energy devices, Tasers deliver a painful electric jolt when deployed, temporarily immobilizing a subject by disrupting the central nervous system and causing involuntary muscle contractions. While they tend to be hailed by law enforcement as non-lethal alternatives to firearms, human-rights organizations have criticized Tasers because accidental deaths have been linked to their use. According to a report by Amnesty International, more than 330 people were reported to have died in the last decade after being struck by police Tasers. While not all of those deaths were directly attributed to the Tasers in coroners' reports, many of the people who died were found to be in "excited states of delirium" or under the influence of illegal drugs or prescription medications when they were Tasered.

Comments

Thanks, Rebecca Bowe, for the detailed article on the upcoming Police Commission hearing on tasers.

I hope I never find myself in the situation of being shot by either a gun or a taser. But if I do, and have to make a choice, I would prefer a taser.

Wouldn't you?

The real question here is one of proper training. Tasers could be a problem if police are not properly trained about when and how to use them.

On the other hand, they would be a benefit if police are properly trained and follow their training.

If the upcoming debate is sensible, it will focus on the details of proposed training.

However, it appears that Homelessness Inc is prepared to pack the hall, as they did when the civil sidewalks law was the issue of the day.

So sensible debate may not be an option at the commission.

Which means the question may end up as an initiative for the voters to decide, as with the civil sidewalks law.

I doubt that Homelessness Inc would win such a contest. They don't have a good record when it comes to public votes.

Is anyone surprised?

Posted by Arthur Evans on Feb. 22, 2011 @ 11:14 pm

"I hope I never find myself in the situation of being shot by either a gun or a taser. But if I do, and have to make a choice, I would prefer a taser."

That seems incredibly short-handed view of law enforcement for someone with such a deep belief in a civil society. Are those the only choices for a police officer in your mind?

Posted by The Real Ian Waters on Feb. 22, 2011 @ 11:31 pm

Authoritarianism is a form of social organization characterized by submission to authority. It is opposed to individualism and democracy.

Posted by Guest on Feb. 22, 2011 @ 11:35 pm

SF progressives?

Posted by matlock on Feb. 23, 2011 @ 2:22 am

Tasers Save Lives. Tasers give police options but almost as important, Tasers save taxpayers big money in reduced workman's comp rates and claims. Fewer lawsuits for excessive force.

Posted by Steve Adams on Feb. 23, 2011 @ 1:56 am

than it is to apprehend them in traditional fashion,

"Tasers save taxpayers big money in reduced workman's comp rates and claims."

And that is one of the many problems with tasers.
So using your justification (that they might hurt their back) cops are taking the easy way out and just tasering people, even when they have no weapons.
We need to accept the fact that taking a well compensated public service job as a police officer is a physical one, like many others.
If you are concerned about workman's comp rates and claims for public servants, then by all means let's reform it to cut out the exploitation for financial gain.
Exploitation of workman's comp is a far greater threat to our community than people who momentarily hesitate to follow an order, or anger a public servant.
Using tasers in non-life threatening situations, simply to force people into compliance, should be grounds for firing.
If you want to protect police officers, outfit them with cameras that record video constantly while they are working. This will protect them from being falsely accused of not following the law or doing their job badly, and restore the public's faith in the many officers who work hard to do their job well.

Posted by Guest on Feb. 23, 2011 @ 9:26 am

"If you want to protect police officers, outfit them with cameras that record video constantly while they are working."

- Guest

That's right. If some crazed guy with a knife comes lunging at you, just take his pic. That'll show him!

Homelessness Inc will demonstrate, once again, at tonight's meeting how clueless they are about the practical realities of law enforcement.

They are in denial about the fact that most of the city's street people are migratory addicts, alcoholics, or psychotics, or a combination of the above.

Addicts, alcoholics, and psychotics need care and should get it. However, they are often also a threat to public safety.

When they lose control, they can do terrible things to themselves and others, without being aware of it at the time, or remembering it later.

Taking their pic when they go berserk will not help. And shooting them with a gun is overkill.

A taser would be the proper remedy for such situations, provided the police are properly trained about when and how to use it.

Let's be realistic about the realities of law enforcement on the street, not clueless, like Homelessness Inc.

Posted by Arthur Evans on Feb. 23, 2011 @ 9:47 am

Outfit them with cameras, in addition to existing "tools".
Video from officer-cams will help later in court.
Hope this clears up your personal ongoing confusion.

Posted by Guest on Feb. 23, 2011 @ 5:48 pm

Folks,

What about rubber bullets? Worked for a hundred years or whatever on drunk Irishmen and if you can knock down an angry drunk Irishman with anything shy of a gun, you've got yourselves a keeper weapon in your arsenal. Cops definitely need something between the truncheon and the bullet and experience shows us that the rubber bullet (yes, they sometimes kill but not with the frequency of tasers) ... rubber bullets are the answer.

Go Giants!

h.

Posted by Guest h. brown on Feb. 23, 2011 @ 11:48 am

Stop resisting common sense.
Our police officers already have more than enough "tools" at their disposal.

In the video linked here, a homeless man in a wheelchair throws away his knife AFTER being shot with a non-lethal beanbag round from a shotgun.
After he throws the knife in a direction away from the officers, they shoot him with real bullets.
This man was disarmed using a non-lethal "tool" that the police already have in their arsenal.
In an example of Orwellian logic, this incident, which was clearly solved with the non-lethal shotgun round, has been used as justification for demanding Tasers.

In reality, this video is an argument that Tasers are not needed by the SFPD.
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1LNO-OgmKGE

Youtube also readily provides plenty of video evidence of Taser abuses against people by overly aggressive police that tarnish the good reputation of their fellow officers (to whom we owe our respect, thanks, and a good monetary compensation) and thus undermine the confidence of the American people in these trusted servants.

64 Year Old Man Tasered in His Home
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=eSzAHM97LJQ

Police Overreact with a Taser Gun
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=EmByfTKKUV4&feature=related

Warren Police Officer Tasers Handcuffed Woman Multiple Times
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=KMpEr-MOSyk&feature=related

Women Tasered While Under Restraint
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_MhfIP-gHSY&feature=related

Police taser driver infraction in seconds
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=svMi0rI9GV8

Good Cop speaks out on taser abuse
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=84KnVn0HbuU&feature=related

Posted by Guest on Feb. 23, 2011 @ 5:57 pm
??

We are talking about San Fransisco here! When you find evidence of abuse with the SFPD on YouTube then talk.

Posted by Guest on Feb. 23, 2011 @ 10:37 pm

You must have overlooked the above video that shows SFPD officers shooting a man in a wheelchair AFTER the man throws his weapon away. Away from himself, and away from the officers.
Does that count?

Her’s an SFPD officer threatening to break a young man’s arm “like a twig” while he is offering no resistance whatsoever. Should we give this officer a taser?
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=gAsUOZpPN9w

As far as finding “evidence of abuse with the SFPD on YouTube “ related to Tasers, SFPD has not been issued Tasers. That is what the debate you are commenting on is about.
Given the fact that SFPD officers do not carry Tasers yet, it would seem unlikely that Youtube videos would tell us much about their use of the weapons.

But here’s one anyway:
http://www.sfgate.com/cgi-bin/object/article?f=/c/a/2007/05/24/MNGJSQ0N5...

Here’s the article about an SFPD officer’s use of a stun gun:

“In one incident, a young man who told Officer Jesse Serna he would be making a complaint against him said that moments later he was thrown to the ground by officers in North Beach and was zapped 12 times with a stun gun as he lay handcuffed on the street.”
http://articles.sfgate.com/2007-05-24/news/17243340_1_excessive-force-of...

Article about part of the fortune in taxpayer’s money this out of control violent civil servant cost you and the rest of San Francisco:
http://www.sfexaminer.com/blogs/under-dome/tazed-doctor-reaches-385000-s...

Posted by Corm on Feb. 24, 2011 @ 9:17 am

According to media reports, SF will move ahead with a pilot program of allowing police the use of tasers.

Homelessness Inc failed to stop this project, just as they failed to derail Care Not Cash and Prop L.

They might want to ask themselves why they so often fail.

Here's a hint:

They are in denial about the fact that most of the city's homeless are addicts, alcoholics, and psychotics who often engage in behavior that is destructive to themselves, other people, and the environment.

The voters are aware of these facts. When Homelessness Inc looks the other way, or pretends there isn't a behavior problem, they lose credibility.

There's nothing credible about denial. Also, nothing progressive.

Posted by Arthur Evans on Feb. 24, 2011 @ 1:29 pm

64 Year Old Man Tasered in His Home
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=eSzAHM97LJQ

Police Overreact with a Taser Gun
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=EmByfTKKUV4&feature=related

Warren Police Officer Tasers Handcuffed Woman Multiple Times
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=KMpEr-MOSyk&feature=related

Women Tasered While Under Restraint
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_MhfIP-gHSY&feature=related

Police taser driver infraction in seconds
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=svMi0rI9GV8

Good Cop speaks out on taser abuse
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=84KnVn0HbuU&feature=related

Posted by Guest on Feb. 28, 2011 @ 2:20 pm