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Community feels ‘railroaded’ by SFPD Taser policy process

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Community members in San Francisco are welcome to attend a public meeting on stun guns and their possible implementation today at 6 p.m. at Bill Graham Auditorium. (Courtesy photo)
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San Francisco may be nearing the finish line on its decision to implement Tasers, and an alleged lack of community process is leaving some stakeholders stunned.

Working groups have met in the last few months to craft a draft policy on stun guns (the general term for Tasers, which is a brand name), but some of those groups said the process has been superficial at best. From the safety of pregnant women to those who are unhoused, San Francisco stakeholders said some of their effort to craft a community-driven Taser policy have been ignored.

“We feel railroaded,” said Dayton Andrews, a human rights organizer with the Coalition on Homelessness.

Even the San Francisco Police Commission is hearing complaints.

“I have heard concerns from the community regarding the process and whether their opinions are incorporated into the draft [policy on stun guns],” Police Commissioner Petra DeJesus told me on Monday.

The Coalition on Homelessness and the Frisco 500 decried the potential silencing of the public at a spate of planned community meetings on stun guns ahead of potential October or November vote on a policy around them.

A notice posted by The City on the social media site Nextdoor for a proposed public meeting on stun guns set for today at Bill Graham Auditorium notes, “Because of the capacity limitations of this space … we are limited to 100 attendees and will accept comments, feedback, questions and concerns by email.”

Hundreds of people may turn out, however, and the lack of space may leave them speaking into the wind — not to the Police Commission.

For instance, the Frisco 5, a group of five San Franciscans who led a hunger strike to call for former-SFPD Chief Greg Suhr’s ouster last year, is organizing opposition to attend the meeting under the banner of an expanded organization called the “Frisco 500.”

“To the people of the community, it’s just another weapon they can use to kill us,” Frisco 5 member Ilych Sato told me. Sato is a local rapper who is known by the name Equipto. “Cops need better training and tactics on de-escalating situations.”

When I expressed the community’s concerns to Police Commissioner Sonia Melara, who led the draft policy working groups, she pushed back.

Melara said community members will all be able to speak at Bill Graham Auditorium — just to each other, in small working groups, whose input will be summarized in meeting minutes for the Police Commission.

When asked why she couldn’t, say, create an “overflow room” if attendance was high, as is regular practice at City Hall meetings, Melara said, “We’ve never done it that way.”

And as for the complaints about the Police Commission stifling the creation of a community-driven policy, Melara said it was simply untrue.

“We made it extremely clear from the beginning that the working group would contribute to the policy,” she said.

Melara sent me 13 discrete policies that were changed by the working group, including a directive that officers shall not hold a firearm and stun gun at the same time, and another to notify dispatch if “a person has difficulty breathing.”

“[Community members] definitely made an impact,” Melara said.

While that’s well and good, it’s a far cry from how the San Francisco Police Department’s recent use-of-force policy was crafted in stakeholder meetings for its most recent update in 2016.

During those meetings, community groups created a separate, discrete policy that was shown to the Police Commission — and the public — in June last year side-by-side with what was characterized as the Police Officers Association policy.

By only incorporating a few token suggestions into the current draft for stun guns, instead of listing all of the community’s suggestions outright, stakeholders worry their input may be used as political cover for the Police Commission’s potential approval of stun guns.

“We get the impression the department wants Tasers and is structuring this whole fiasco to get Tasers,” Andrews said. “They’re not interested in leaving it open for opposition.”

Though he didn’t want to speak for other organizations, Andrews said the Coalition on Homelessness hoped a stakeholder policy would include banning the use of Tasers on those in the homeless community, as studies show their fragile health may leave them especially susceptible to the negative effects of stun guns, including death.

Rumors are building that some stakeholders may formally challenge this process or air their concerns, sooner rather than later.

In the meantime, if you want to speak out on Tasers, truck on over to Bill Graham Auditorium tonight at 6 p.m.

On Guard prints the news and raises hell each week. Email Fitz at joe@sfexaminer.com, follow him on Twitter and Instagram @FitztheReporter, and Facebook at facebook.com/FitztheReporter.

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