SF Police Commission to debate Taser policy ahead of June ballot measure

Following calls from Mayor Mark Farrell and the police union to quickly move forward with arming officers with stun guns, the Police Commission has announced that it may vote on a Taser policy as early as next week.

The Police Commission is scheduled to discuss and possibly vote on a draft Taser policy next Wednesday, after voting last November in favor of equipping officers with the controversial devices by the end of 2018.

The possible vote was announced Friday, the day after the mayor pledged his support for a June ballot measure that would circumvent the Police Commission and create a Taser policy for the San Francisco Police Department.

SEE RELATED: Mayor Farrell backs Taser ballot measure despite SFPD chief’s opposition

“I’m glad to see there is movement by the Commission on this issue,” Farrell, who previously told the San Francisco Examiner he would support the ballot measure until the Police Commission approved a policy, said in a statement.

“My office is in the process of reviewing the policy,” Farrell said. “The devil is always in the details and it is important that this policy is one that works for both our officers and the community.”

The Police Commission discussion is likely to shed light on the differences between the policy developed by the civilian oversight board and the policy baked into the Taser ballot measure from the San Francisco Police Officers Association.

“Since there is a ballot initiative now, I think it is important to see the difference between how Tasers would operate under the Police Commission [and] how they would operate under the POA initiative,” said Commissioner Bill Hing.

If approved, the ballot measure would lock in a policy allowing officers to use Tasers for “resolving encounters with subjects who are actively resisting, assaultive, or exhibiting any action likely to result in serious bodily injury or death of another person, themselves or a police officer.”

The proposed policy before the Police Commission, which is 14 pages long and the product of a working group with the public, appears to be more restrictive.

John Crew, a retired attorney for the American Civil Liberties Union, said one key distinction is that the Police Commission proposal would allow officers to use Tasers when a suspect is “violently resisting” rather than “actively resisting.”

Crew said that could be the difference between a suspect being stunned for attacking an officer and a suspect being tased for holding onto a light pole, for instance.

Police Chief Bill Scott speaks to a resident during a Police Commission meeting at the Korean American Community Center. (Jessica Christian/2017 S.F. Examiner)

Last week, SFPD Chief Bill Scott came out against the ballot measure. Scott is a proponent of Tasers, but he called the ballot measure the “antithesis” of police reform because it restricts the power of the Police Commission.

The proposed ballot measure would prevent the Police Commission from passing or having a Taser policy that is inconsistent with the policy in the measure without approval from the Board of Supervisors or voters.

“If we had voted against Tasers in November, it would have overruled our vote,” said Hing, who was one of three commissioners to vote against Tasers.

SEE RELATED: SFPD Chief Scott takes stand against Taser ballot measure

“If they are going to use Tasers, they better use them in a measured way,” Hing added. “If it overrules all that, I’m deeply concerned.”

SFPOA President Martin Halloran suggested the Police Commission should have voted on a Taser policy back in November.

“There was a taser draft policy on the table that had already been vetted through all the stakeholders,” Halloran said in an email. “It could have been voted on by the Commission at that time but some of the Commissioners decided to kick the can down the road.”

There are also police commissioners on both sides of the Taser issue who do not support the initiative.

Commissioner Bob Hirsch, who voted in favor of arming officers with Tasers, said the ballot measure is not a sensible way to “introduce a new weapon to the department.”

“I don’t know if this ballot measure is designed to tie our hands or not, but it may,” Hirsch said. “I don’t support this.”

Both Hirsch and Hing still said they would like to pass a Taser policy before June because the SFPD needs time to train its officers under the policy.

“I’d like to see us act before the June measure is voted on, whether that was on there or not,” Hirsch said. “I think we need to do this.”

When asked whether the police union would stop pushing voters to support the ballot measure if the Police Commission passed a policy, Halloran said “that depends.”

“If the Commission forwards a reasonable practical policy that has proper oversight and training components within the policy,” Halloran said, “then the POA will look at how the Police Commission approved policy can be intertwined with the language in the Taser ballot measure.”

Michael Barba
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Michael Barba

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