The use of Tasers by the Police Department is a matter of “when, not if anymore,” Chief George Gascón told The Examiner.
Two recent officer-involved shootings and a high-profile case from last year have kept pressure on the Police Department to approve the use of stun guns, which have been rejected in the past.
Gascón — who used a Taser in the early 1980s when they were adopted by the Los Angeles Police Department — said with the help of civil liberties advocates, San Francisco can develop a policy that avoids police abuse of the weapon.
The most recent police shooting occurred Sunday night, when officers wounded a 27-year-old man they say was wielding a knife at an apartment in the Mission district. Before that, on Sept. 5, police killed Visitacion Valley resident Xiyu Li, 37, with a single shot.
In both cases, police said non-lethal methods failed to stop the men from advancing toward them in a threatening manner. Pepper spray is used as the primary nonlethal measure of force and, when available, police use a nonlethal gun that shoots beanbaglike projectiles.
“Frankly, if you’ve been hit by a beanbag — and I have accidentally — it hurts,” Gascón told The Examiner on Wednesday. “It really got my attention. It’s like getting hit with a baseball at 100 mph.”
He said the problem with the nonlethal methods currently used by the Police Department is that people who have diminished mental capacities or are under the influence of drugs do not always respond to pain in the same ways.
Tasers, however, do not function on pain. Rather, they incapacitate a person by sending electricity through their body, which disrupts neuromuscular control.
Gascón said the biggest problem with stun guns is that they have been abused, especially when officers use Tasers on people suspected of low-level crimes. He said a San Francisco policy would only allow officers to use the weapons when suspects are “aggressive and combative.”
Gascón said he has already talked with the Taser company about the stun guns and that he’s interested not only in a short-range Taser, but also a shotgun-type stun gun that can reach the subject from about 50 feet away.
The idea of police in The City carrying Tasers has been raised in the past, but was rejected after protests.
The Police Commission evaluated Tasers about four years ago, but never adopted them due to outcry from groups such as the American Civil Liberties Union.
Then, former police Chief Heather Fong expressed support for stun guns in 2008 after an officer-involved shooting that severely wounded 56-year-old Teresa Sheehan in her home in the Mission Dolores neighborhood after she allegedly threatened a social worker and police officers with a knife. Her family has sued The City for $10 million.
A wide-ranging study by the Police Effectiveness Review Board in December also suggested Tasers as a use-of-force option.
The effects a subject may experience when shot with a Taser include: