SFPD’s push for Tasers stunted 

Police Chief George Gascón’s fight to bring Tasers to the San Francisco Police Department fizzled after a divided Police Commission rejected the controversial stun guns.

“I think we’re going to wait,” Gascón said Thursday after a marathon meeting at City Hall the previous night. “The commission has spoken and we’re moving forward. We’ve got a city to run.”

Gascón has been the driving force behind equipping officers with Tasers, something he calls a “less-lethal weapon,” since he took over the department in August. A wide-ranging study of the SFPD by the Police Effectiveness Review Forum also suggested the use of electric stun guns.

But the Police Commission voted 4-3 to reject Gascón’s efforts to develop a policy on Tasers. While there was some confusion about whether the commission was voting to allow Tasers or allowing the SFPD to develop a policy, in the end, the decision shut the door on the devices.

The main opponent, Commissioner Petra DeJesus, objected to the cost of Tasers and the lack of information on their safety.

“The real question is: Do we need or want Tasers in San Francisco?” DeJesus said.

The cost of equipping a single officer with a Taser, the cartridges that serve as ammunition and a holster is about $1,000, according to Taser International spokesman Steve Tuttle. Equipping SFPD officers could cost up to $2 million, although Gascón has said he would look for alternative funding.

San Francisco is one of four big-city police departments in the nation that don’t use Tasers. The others are Detroit, Washington, D.C., and Boston, Tuttle said, adding that the debate about their use is nothing new.

Commissioner Jim Hammer — who has waffled during the past two weeks on whether to equip SFPD officers with Tasers and ended up being the swing vote — said his decision was based on a study presented Wednesday night.

UC San Francisco cardiologists Byron Lee and Zian Tseng provided scientific data on Tasers on Wednesday. Data provided by law enforcement agencies from 50 cities found the number of in-custody deaths multiplied by six in the first year a department started using Tasers, and then decreased in subsequent years.

“From a medical and scientific standpoint ... there is a risk of causing sudden death,” Lee said.

As for continuing the fight for Tasers, Gascón said that without the support of the Police Commission, “there’s nowhere left to go.”

“This turned out to be a very confusing and very emotional and ideologically driven debate,” Gascón said.

bbegin@sfexaminer.com

 

Police using stun guns

15,100 Law enforcement agencies that use Tasers
471,000 Tasers sold
5,950 Agencies that make Tasers standard equipment
29 of the 33 largest cities use Tasers
$1,000 Estimated cost per officer for stun gun, cartridges and holster
1,931 Latest number of sworn SFPD officers

Sources: Taser International, S.F. Police Department

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Brent Begin

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