Sparks fly as Taser debate grows 

Not only could Tasers save lives, but equipping San Francisco police with the stun guns could save money, police Chief George Gascón said Wednesday as opposition to their use mounts.

The Police Department already spent $1 million in workers’ compensation claims for officers who were injured last year in physical altercations with suspects, Gascón said. The City is expected to pay out another $1.25 million for those injuries before all 107 officers are back on the streets.

While having Tasers would not prevent all of those injuries from happening, having the tool would have resulted in fewer injuries, along with fewer injuries to suspects, which can result in costly claims and settlements, Gascón said.

He mentioned a study from the Police Executive Research Forum, which recommended the use of Tasers in a 2008 analysis of the SFPD. That report pointed to the use of Tasers in Miami-Dade County, Fla., where there was a 67 percent decline in officer injuries and 87 percent decline in injuries to suspects.

As for those who have died after being stunned with a Taser, Gascón said it happened to people who were “fragile” and “if they ran around the block” would suffer a heart attack.

The Police Commission voted 4-3 last week to delay permission for Gascón to develop a Taser policy to bring back to the commission in about 90 days for final approval.

Several recent events have some worried that Tasers could be misused. The family of a man who died after he was stunned with a Taser at a San Jose hospital filed a federal lawsuit this week, and then-BART police Officer Johannes Mehserle, who was caught on tape shooting Oscar Grant III, claimed he was reaching for a Taser.

The Police Commission made the right decision in 2005 when it opposed Tasers at the SFPD, Commissioner Vincent Pan said Wednesday. Gascón has only presented one side of the story, he said.

“I think that Tasers have caused more problems than solutions in certain departments,” Pan said. “I don’t think that the commission has thus far heard a balanced view.”

The Police Commission will take up the issue again Wednesday. Even without the full support of the commission, the resolution is expected to pass with at least four votes.

Police video advocating for stun guns

A video produced by officers supporting Taser use can be viewed by clicking here.

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Brent Begin

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