San Francisco police would spend $3.5 million on stun guns under a proposed budget for next fiscal year after more than a decade of debate over the electro-shock devices, commonly known as Tasers.
The Police Commission passed a $623 million proposed budget for the San Francisco Police Department last week, which includes $3 million to purchase the devices and $500,000 for information technology costs related to Tasers. SFPD spokesperson David Stevenson said the purchase price includes training.
The budget proposal is the latest move toward arming officers with stun guns despite fierce opposition from those concerned about the potential overuse of the devices. In November, the Police Commission voted in favor of implementing stun guns in the department at the close of 2018, when the SFPD will have had a new use-of-force policy in place for two years.
Proponents say the devices are a needed, less-lethal alternative to firearms that can increase the safety of suspects and officers alike. After reviewing the department in the wake of a series of police shootings, the U.S. Department of Justice recommended the SFPD “strongly consider deploying” the devices.
Still, critics say the devices have a history of causing severe injury or death, and also argue that stun guns can escalate crisis situations police are trying to defuse. Those critics include Jennifer Friedenbach, executive director of the Coalition on Homelessness.
“Instead of buying a new toy, that money could be invested in things that would free up the police to address crime such as expanding public health resources to respond appropriately to people in psychiatric crisis,” Friedenbach said.
The $3.5 million price tag is less than a Budget and Legislative Analyst report anticipated the devices could cost at the high-end in October. The report found that stun guns could run the department more than $8 million in one-time fees, with additional costs each year. The report also found Tasers could cost as low as $2.8 million with additional annual fees.
Meanwhile, the San Francisco Police Officers Association has placed a measure on the June ballot that would require the department to propose a budget for the devices each year and set parameters for when officers could use the devices.
The ballot measure would allow officers to use stun guns 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 Police Commission has yet to approve a policy for officers to follow while using stun guns. The ballot measure would prevent the Police Commission and Police Chief Bill Scott from crafting a policy that is inconsistent with the measure.
The police union previously told the San Francisco Examiner it is pushing the ballot measure in case the Police Commission delays rolling out the devices.
The $3.5 million proposed budget does not include potential litigation costs from officers using the weapons on the streets. The higher $8 million estimated cost from the Budget and Legislative Analyst report also did not include potential litigation costs.
John Crew, a retired ACLU attorney, said the $3.5 million price tag “should be viewed as a low-ball estimate” if the ballot measure passes in June and implements stun guns under a policy “designed by the SFPOA to allow officers to use Tasers in as many circumstances as possible.”
A poll conducted for the Chamber of Commerce released Feb. 2 found that 76 percent of voters support arming officers with Tasers “to address anxieties over public safety.”
The SFPD will submit the budget proposal to Mayor Mark Farrell later this month, who will then propose a budget to the Board of Supervisors in June for approval the following month.
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