SFPD To Again Discuss Arming Officers With Tasers

SAN FRANCISCO (KCBS) – The question of whether Tasers should be issued to the San Francisco Police Department will be hashed out at a City Hall meeting Wednesday night.

The last time the department asked to carry the weapons – one year ago – it was turned down by the Police Commission.

KCBS’ Bob Melrose Reports:

Police brass claim one, and possibly two, recent officer-involved shootings could have been avoided if the department deployed Tasers. However, Police Commissioner Angela Chan isn’t so sure that would solve all of the department’s problems.

”There are certainly other police departments that do not have Tasers, for example Memphis, Tennessee,” said Chan.  “We just adopted their crisis intervention training model in order to de-escalate situations with mental health crisis calls,” said Chan.

Commission President Thomas Mazucco said that Tasers are essential to avoiding officer-involved shootings.

”The use of force is never pleasant, and it’s never pretty,” said Mazucco.

The commission voted 4-3 last March against a proposal by then-Police Chief George Gascon to study the use of Tasers by the department. 

Gascon said that was because the presentation was flawed and he didn’t yet understand city politics.

Professor Robert Weisberg on argument against Tasers:

Since then, three new members, including Chan, have been appointed to the commission, and interim Police Chief Jeff Godown, who took over as the city’s top cop when Gascon was named district attorney last month, is hoping the commission’s new makeup will result in a different approach to the Taser issue.

The vote at Wednesday night’s meeting would not authorize the use of Tasers, but would give the Police Department “permission to…go back and research the feasibility, cost, training and all other aspects of putting together a pilot program,” Godown said.

After conducting initial research, the department would then have to go back to the commission at a later date to seek authorization to use the devices, he said.

Chan said Tuesday that she has concerns about the effectiveness and safety of Tasers after having “done quite a bit of research on the issue.”

Chan will be making a 45-minute presentation at Wednesday’s meeting that will feature experts on studies involving Tasers, including one that she said found that fatal officer-involved shootings more than doubled in the first year of Taser implementation by police departments in California.

Chan also said she is “concerned that Tasers are not regulated by any government body.”

The Police Department will also be giving a presentation at the meeting that Godown said will point out that “there are a large number of departments that use Tasers” as a less-than-lethal option without major problems.

Chan said the Police Department has to have many more discussions with the community before adopting the policy.

“It’s good to have these conversations before the department adopts new weapons,” Chan said.

The commission, with the assistance of Godown, adopted a plan earlier this month to create a new team within the Police Department to handle crisis situations involving the mentally ill.

The move came in the wake of two shootings of mentally ill suspects in December and January. Gascon said Tasers could have prevented serious injury or death in those cases.

The use of Tasers by the department is an issue that will likely be handled by the next permanent chief, who could be appointed as early as next month.

Chan said the commission, which is tasked with submitting up to three recommendations for a new police chief to Mayor Ed Lee, will be interviewing candidates over the next few weeks and hope to make their selections by March 15.

Wednesday’s meeting is scheduled for 5:30 p.m. in Room 400 at City Hall.

(© 2011 CBS Broadcasting Inc. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.)

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