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Breed neutral on Taser ballot measure as mayoral candidates choose sides

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Board of Supervisors President London Breed oversees a Board of Supervisors meeting at San Francisco City Hall on Tuesday, January 23rd, 2018. (Mira Laing/Special to S.F. Examiner)

All of the prominent candidates in the running to become the next mayor of San Francisco have taken a position on the police union’s controversial ballot measure on arming officers with stun guns — except for London Breed.

Breed is in favor of Tasers as a tool to prevent another police shooting. “I hate guns,” she has said. But the Board of Supervisors president won’t take a firm stance on the measure, which critics say would implement a more lenient policy for the use of Tasers by officers than one created by the Police Commission.

“I have not taken a position on the POA-backed Taser measure,” Breed said in a statement, referring to the San Francisco Police Officers Association. “I do have concerns about taking those types of policy matters to the ballot box.”

The rest of the prominent candidates in the race have gone one way or the other on the measure. Progressive candidates Jane Kim and Mark Leno both oppose the initiative, while former Supervisor Angela Alioto said she signed a petition in January to place the measure on the ballot.

Political consultant Jim Ross said Breed is likely “hesitant” to take a stand because she wants to appease voters on both sides of the issue.

“If you’re going to be the mayor of San Francisco, you shouldn’t try to waffle or kind of not take a stand on issues that face voters,” Ross said. “She’s trying to walk that line of being kind of the pro-law and order, pro-POA candidate, while at the same time follow the right policy decisions.”

The ballot measure is contentious because it would lock in a policy that the Police Commission could not substantially change without approval from voters or the Board of Supervisors. The police union put the measure on the ballot arguing that the Police Commission took too long to pass a Taser policy.

On Friday, the Police Commission announced it would schedule a possible vote on a Taser policy next week. The commission voted in favor of arming officers by the end of 2018 in November, but did not create a policy for the devices at the time.

The announcement came a day after Mayor Mark Farrell threw his support behind the ballot measure, echoing the concerns of the police union. The mayor shared an advisor with the SFPOA until recently.

Farrell, who said he would support the measure until the Police Commission passed a policy for the devices, backed the ballot initiative despite the concerns of San Francisco Police Department Chief Bill Scott.

Scott supports Tasers, which the U.S. Department of Justice recommended the SFPD strongly consider adopting, but he called the measure the “antithesis” of police reform because it would strip power from the Police Commission.

“The chief gave candidates cover,” Ross said. “It’s an interesting dynamic where you can actually be against Tasers but still be pro-police because of that position that the police took.”

Indeed, Kim’s campaign spokesperson Julie Edwards said the “SFPD, under our new Chief, has been hard at work implementing the Department of Justice reforms and rebuilding trust in all our communities, reducing violent confrontations and crime. We should continue those efforts and not circumvent that hard work.”

Leno said in a statement that the “SFPD should focus on implementing the Obama Administration’s DOJ reforms including de-escalation training — not giving officers a new weapon.”

Alioto said that candidates not supporting the ballot measure is “pure politics.”

“This is just pure politics,” Alioto said. “This has nothing to do with the public and keeping the police officers safe. For people to come out against it right now and do what they’re doing with the police chief, it’s just political.”

Richie Greenberg, the only Republican in the running, joined Alioto in supporting the initiative but said he wished “it didn’t have to go to the ballot measure.”

“It should never have been delayed in the first place,” said Greenberg, who added that he would support “anything that pushes it forward to get Tasers in the hands of the police department ASAP, or yesterday, or last year.”

Breed did expand on the issue at the Harvey Milk LGBT Democratic Club last month.

“I’m supporting Tasers, and as mayor I plan to do what I can do make sure that there’s robust oversight, there’s a policy in place, and this ballot measure will make that impossible to regulate,” Breed said.

“That is really striking a balance between what we know sadly is going to happen, the ballot measure, if it goes on the ballot, is going to pass,” Breed continued. “So how am I as mayor going to make sure there is oversight?”

Mayoral candidates Michelle Bravo and Ellen Lee Zhou did not respond to requests for comment, but homeless advocate and candidate Amy Farah Weiss called on all candidates to oppose the measure.

“All mayoral candidates should stand united in opposing the POA Taser ballot measure and instead work towards re-directing resources into strategic programming that will actually achieve the quality of life, health, and safety outcomes we all seek as residents of San Francisco,” Weiss said.


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