The time has come for San Francisco police to be equipped with stun guns for a pilot program that must have firm guidelines and strict accountability.
Police Chief Greg Suhr asked the Police Commission last week to approve a pilot program that would arm 74 officers who have completed crisis intervention training with nonlethal devices such as stun guns, commonly referred to as Tasers, a brand name used by a company that makes such devices.
The request by Suhr is the latest made to the Police Commission, which has in the past dragged its feet and failed to approve studies on nonlethal weapon options. In 2011, the commission approved a resolution that required a report about nonlethal options within 90 days. The report was never done.
Other pushes for stun guns came in 2009 by then-police Chief George Gascón and in 2005 by former top cop Heather Fong. The numerous delays have left San Francisco as the last major U.S. city in which police do not have stun guns.
There are myriad arguments against stun guns, but the Police Commission should help craft a pilot program that puts checks and balances into place to address those concerns. Included in the program should be strict guidelines for when stun guns can be used. There also should be a system to track when and against whom the weapons are used.
Stun guns cannot be issued if officers are given carte blanche use without oversight from the Police Commission and the greater community.
Stun guns will not be a perfect fix for police officers who need to confront armed and dangerous individuals or those who have mental illnesses and may be a threat to themselves and others. But the reality is officers will at times have to use force to subdue people, and giving them stun guns as a tool to do so is needed.