OAKLAND (CBS SF) — Bay Area Rapid Transit’s board of directors this week will consider spending up to $141,000 to buy 130 more Tasers so that all of its police officers would have their own stun guns.
The BART Police Department currently has 60 Tasers, and many officers aren’t equipped with the stun guns.
BART staff members said in a report that will be discussed at Thursday’s board meeting that giving each officer a Taser would increase “the officer’s level of familiarity with, care and confidence in the proper use and operation of the equipment.”
The issue of officers’ training and familiarity with Tasers was raised by lawyers for former BART police Officer Johannes Mehserle, who was convicted of involuntary manslaughter last year for fatally shooting unarmed passenger Oscar Grant III at the Fruitvale station in Oakland on Jan. 1, 2009.
Mehserle admitted that he shot and killed Grant after he and other officers responded to reports of a fight on a BART train, but he claimed that he had meant to use his Taser on Grant and fired his service weapon instead.
Mehserle’s lawyers said Mehserle hadn’t been properly trained to use a Taser and wasn’t very familiar with the stun guns because he didn’t have his own Taser and instead had to borrow one that belonged to another officer.
BART staff members state in their report that Tasers “are an important less-lethal-force option that officers can use when lethal force is not required.”
They say that because Tasers can be used from a distance, they “provide an additional degree of safety for officers compared to other less-lethal-force options.”
John Burris, an Oakland civil rights attorney who has filed a wrongful death suit against BART, Mehserle and other officers on behalf of Grant’s family, said Tuesday that it would be “appropriate” for all BART officers to have Tasers.
But Burris said officers “should be properly trained on using Tasers, and Tasers should only be used consistent with the proper and reasonable use of force.”
The attorney said training should ensure that “weapons confusion doesn’t occur.”
Burris said he’s not convinced that Mehserle mistakenly used his gun instead of a Taser on Grant but that proper training should ensure that there are “no more tragic consequences” when officers confront passengers.
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