Shocking turnabout on Tasers? 

The City’s top cop wants to arm the police with Tasers, giving officers in dangerous situations another nonlethal option.

Two weeks after police shot a mentally ill woman multiple times, San Francisco police Chief Heather Fong, right, said Tuesday she wants police to be given authority to use electric-jolting Tasers — and it appears she may have the support of the Police Commission.

“The Police Department is always looking at ways to provide more nonlethal options to officers in handling violent suspects,” Fong said in a statement to The Examiner. “We have presented information on Tasers to the Police Commission in the past and are recommending a follow-up presentation in the near future.”

Police Commission President Theresa Sparks said that though Tasers have been controversial when discussed by the commission in the past, backing for the stun guns has increased.

“If I had to speculate at this point, the department would be very likely to get Tasers sometime next year, just because there seems to be more and more support for the use of Tasers for nonlethal support,” Sparks said.

Tasers were evaluated by the Police Commission about four years ago, but the evaluation was stopped after opposition arose. A 2004 Amnesty International report indicated that Tasers had been linked to more than 70 deaths in the course of police usage throughout the United States and Canada in four years.

As it stands, San Francisco County sheriff’s deputies are allowed to use Tasers, which can also be used as less powerful stun guns. However, the San Francisco Police Department has never received that authority. Pepper spray is used as the primary nonlethal force.

Fong’s comments to The Examiner come on the heels of the Aug. 7 shooting of 56-year-old Teresa Sheehan in her home in the Mission Dolores neighborhood after she allegedly threatened a social worker and police officers with a knife. Family members describe Sheehan as mildly schizophrenic but not violent.

After officers deployed pepper spray, they say Sheehan lunged at them with the knife and they shot her multiple times. She has undergone two surgeries and is set for a third to reconstruct her eye socket, her sister, Frances Sheehan said.

Though Fong didn’t comment on whether a Taser might have helped stop the Sheehan situation from escalating, she said the weapons’ adoption would provide another option for police officers in similar situations.

“Tasers have gained widespread acceptance in law enforcement as an effective less-than-lethal option and I believe we should seriously consider providing officers with them,” Fong said.

The power to subdue

The effects of being shot by a Taser stun gun:

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


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Katie Worth

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