The first of three scheduled community meetings over a proposal to equip a number of San Francisco officers with stun guns showed the sharp divide between top Police Department brass asking for the devices and community members fighting to keep them out of cops’ hands.
Ultimately, the seven-member Police Commission will decide whether to approve Police Chief Greg Suhr’s proposed stun-gun pilot program. The devices are intended to incapacitate someone by delivering 50,000 volts of electricity.
Suhr said stun guns will only be in the hands of specially trained officers, used according to a policy as “strict as any … in the country.” They also will provide officers with a tool that could prevent fatal shootings.
But community members at a two-hour meeting Tuesday night at the Hamilton Recreation Center in the Western Addition said the Police Department should take a different approach by improving community relations and increasing specialized training. They fear stun guns will be disproportionately used on already-disenfranchised populations.
The department has launched a program called the Crisis Intervention Team, which specially trains officers to deal with people who may have a mental illness. It is this unit of officers, currently about 100, that Suhr wants to arm with the stun guns.
Jennifer Friedenbach, executive director of the Coalition on Homelessness, praised the specialized unit as a “dramatic shift in the way police officers would approach someone,” but said the Police Department has a long way to go to realize the effort’s potential. “Introducing a weapon to that team is really a big slap in the face” of advocates of such a program, Friedenbach said.
Darrell Hunter, a longtime resident of the Western Addition, said the department needs to first increase accountability of its officers.
“You have the police coming to the table with unclean hands asking for Tasers,” Hunter said, referring to a specific brand of stun guns.
Suhr began his stun-gun effort after an officer fatally shot a suspect in July. His rationale for using the controversial devices seems simple and straightforward, as evidenced by an exchange at Tuesday’s meeting.
“Has any of you been tased before?” asked Darnell Boyd, a tenant organizer at the Mission Hotel.
“Yes,” Suhr said.
“And how did it feel?”
“It’s very painful.”
“So why would you want to do it to another human being?”
“Because it’s better than shooting them.”
San Francisco has long resisted calls for stun guns, even though previous police chiefs have made similar requests as far back as 2004.
Resident Nicolas Renault said stun guns are just not in keeping with the spirit of the community.
“If you’re in San Francisco, we have a certain love for one another,” Renault said. “And Tasers just don’t speak that love.”
The community meetings are one of the steps the Police Commission requested the Police Department take in its bid for stun guns. The next one is scheduled for 6 p.m. Feb. 4 at the Scottish Rite Center at 2850 19th Ave.