After a controversial and failed effort to acquire Tasers for the Police Department last year, and two officer-involved shootings that a former police chief said may have been prevented by the “less lethal” devices, the department is still no closer to obtaining them.
But whereas there once wasn’t the political will to arm San Francisco cops with Tasers, the major obstacle now is budget cutbacks.
Police Chief Greg Suhr “would like to have Tasers, but there’s no money right now,” police Sgt. Michael Andraychak said. Andraychak noted that they have to be approved by the Police Commission, which in March 2010 rejected a similar request by then-police Chief George Gascón.
Opponents have argued the weapons — which deliver a powerful electrical shock that renders a person temporarily incapacitated and have been implicated as contributing to deaths — are dangerous, unregulated and could be used excessively by officers.
After the Police Commission rejected the use of the stun guns, Gascón said a Taser would have likely prevented two other officer-involved shootings — the fatal shooting of a knife-wielding mentally ill man on Dec. 29, and the nonfatal shooting of a wheelchair-bound man who had stabbed an officer on Jan. 4.
In February, after Gascón became district attorney, interim police Chief Jeff Godown again approached the Police Commission about Tasers, and the commission by a 6-1 vote approved a study on Tasers and other less-lethal options for police.
But the commission soon became occupied with the search for a permanent chief, the department was hit with budget cuts, and the study was never done.
Currently, the Police Department does have other less lethal options such as bean-bag guns. But questions have been raised about the effectiveness of bean-bag guns in subduing violent suspects.
On Oct. 3, police fired a bean-bag gun at a reportedly mentally ill man who allegedly stabbed his mother and father in the Richmond district. The bean bag was ineffective, and another officer shot the man twice, killing him, police said.
Would a Taser have been more effective in that case? Maybe not.
Suhr told community members after the shooting that a Taser would not have helped more than the bean-bag weapon an officer first fired at the man, who he said was quickly advancing toward officers with a knife in each hand.
The shocking facts
Range: Up to 35 feet
Used by: 16,300 law enforcement agencies in 107 countries
Deployed by: Law enforcement in 29 out of the 33 largest U.S. cities with populations over 500,000
Source: Taser International