The Police Department might finally equip its officers with Tasers, but one major obstacle still exists: The police chief has to prove it is the best option available.
The Police Commission voted 6-1 last week to allow the department to study the use of Tasers. But the commission wants the SFPD to look into other so-called less-lethal alternatives.
San Francisco police officers already use less-lethal weapons in crime fighting. Batons have been at the side of an officer’s belt since the days of the Barbary Coast. Also, officers shoot pepper spray — a once-controversial option — to subdue people resisting arrest. Cops already have access to guns that shoot beanbag projectiles, and even K-9 officers are used in dangerous situations.
But in three fatal officer-involved shootings in 2010, police say those options were either not immediately available or ineffective.
Studies, such as a 2008 Florida Gulf Coast University report for the National Institute of Justice, show that among less-lethal options commonly used by many departments in the nation, Tasers are the most effective in stopping a potentially deadly criminal.
But in San Francisco, the use of stun guns has run into opposition for years because the incapacitating jolt of energy causes burns, cuts and even death.
“I understand about the public’s concern about the Tasers,” interim police Chief Jeff Godown said. “We’re going to look at everything that’s out there right now.”
Some of the newer technologies being considered in lieu of the stun guns include guns that shoot larger projectiles than the current beanbag weapons. Also, the department might consider a “Dazer Laser,” which shines a bright-green beam of light at someone’s eyes, temporarily blinding them.
“Every weapon can be problematic. It depends on the circumstances,” said Samara Marion, a policy analyst and attorney for the Office of Citizen Complaints, which investigates instances of police brutality in The City. “I think that’s why the commission is taking such a close look at this. There’s a huge jump from a baton to a gun.”
The Police Department’s report to the commission, which is due in three months, will look at whether police are making the right tactical decisions when approaching dangerous suspects. Already, the department is developing a model to deal with the mentally ill.
“It’s clear we need to spend more time looking at other options, such as improving tactics and communication,” said Police Commissioner Angela Chan.
Electronic control devices: The most common brand is Taser. They are designed to deploy electricity throughout the body of the target to temporarily cause loss of muscle control.
Impact weapons: Billy clubs, truncheons and straight wood batons have been utilized for hundreds of years by police officers, but expandable batons and models with enlarged plastic tips are popular now.
Chemical weapons: Irritants that attack the eyes, nose and skin, such as pepper spray, can disable or significantly impair the recipient’s ability to function.
Compressed-air weapons: These allow an officer to launch a chemical agent such as pepper spray a greater distance.
Police dogs: K-9 officers fall into the category of less-lethal force.
Riot guns/nonlethal launchers: These shoot rounds of ammunition such as rubber bullets and bean bags.
Dazer Lazer: Produced by Laser Energetics, this bright-green ray of light blinds its target and can even produce nausea.
Net guns: With a blast of air, Kevlar nets are launched at a target.