Crucial Taser decision coming 

Five years after a failed attempt to equip San Francisco police officers with Tasers, the Police Department’s policymaking body will take up the matter again this evening.

Police Chief George Gascón supports equipping officers with Tasers, something he calls a “less-lethal weapon.” And the current Police Commission appears to share enough support to pass a general order allowing the electric stun guns, which also are known as conducted energy devices.

More than a half-dozen officer-involved shootings would not have occurred in the past five years if police were armed with Tasers, according to the latest San Francisco study recommending their use.

In the past five years, there were at least 15 incidents in which 26 officers discharged their firearms and injured or killed people, according to the study, which the Police Commission also will discuss at its 5:30 p.m. meeting in Room 400 at City Hall.

The study criticized less-lethal options, like beanbag guns or batons, that officers are currently given in such situations, noting that when police were less than 15 feet from a person, it was too dangerous to use a shotgun loaded with beanbags or a baton.

If the commission approves today’s item, it would allow Gascón to develop policies and training programs for the stun guns, which will need to be approved again by the commission.

But the commission is likely to come up against opposition, much like it did in 2005 when Tasers were rejected.

Peter Bibring, a staff attorney for the ACLU who works on police issues, said the ACLU still has issues with the use of Tasers. There has been little independent research on the stun guns, but nearly 400 people have died after being shocked since 2001, he said.

“Any technology that has the potential to reduce the risk of injury might be a good thing, but only if it’s properly used,” Bibring said.
Commission President Joe Marshall was on the commission when the idea was brought up before. At the time, there was more than one study examining the safety of Tasers.

“A lot of the things that were talked about sort of got subsumed by the studies that were about to happen,” Marshall said. “It may have just not been the will at that time ... [and] it may be now.”

Still, if Gascón wants to allow a Taser policy to move forward, he will have to respond to concerns about officer training and

“The chief is going to have to address these concerns if he wants to change the policy,” Marshall said.


Effects of a Taser

•Person can fall immediately to the ground and be unable to stop such an occurrence
•A person located in the water may drown if their ability to move is restricted
•Person may yell or scream
•Involuntary strong muscle contractions
•Person may freeze in place with legs locked
•Person may feel dazed for several seconds or minutes
•Potential vertigo
•Temporary tingling sensation
•Person may experience critical stress amnesia (not remember any pain)


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Brent Begin

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