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SFPD Chief Scott takes stand against Taser ballot measure

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Police Chief William Scott (Jessica Christian/S.F. Examiner)

Police Chief Bill Scott on Tuesday blasted the police union’s ballot measure on arming officers with Tasers as the “antithesis” of community-oriented policing recommendations from the U.S. Department of Justice.

In a letter to the Department of Elections, Scott criticized the ballot measure because it would create a policy for officers to use Tasers that the Police Commission could not substantially change without the permission of voters or the Board of Supervisors.

“This measure is the antithesis of the spirit of many of the U.S. DOJ COPS Office recommendations,” Scott said, referring to the Office of Community Oriented Policing Services, which launched a review of the San Francisco Police Department in early 2016 after controversy over the fatal police shooting of Mario Woods.

“The measure would prevent the timely adjustment of [Taser] policies that are inconsistent with the provisions of this measure, even if emerging or best policing practices or other legitimate factors calls for such changes to occur immediately,” Scott added.

SEE RELATED: Breed backs police Tasers in conflict with progressive mayoral candidates

Scott sent the letter ahead of a Ballot Simplification Committee hearing on Thursday morning, where the Department of Elections will discuss his analysis before writing a summary of the ballot measure for the June voter pamphlet.

Tasers have been at the center of controversy in San Francisco for more than a decade. With Scott’s support in November, the Police Commission voted in favor of arming officers with Tasers at the end of 2018. But the Police Commission has yet to approve a policy for officers to follow when using the devices.

The ballot measure would create that policy without the input of the Police Commission.

Scott, who has called Tasers a “sound, less-lethal force option that complement the de-escalation principles and techniques our officers practice every day,” suggested he would prefer a more comprehensive policy created through a transparent process at the Police Commission.

Gary Delagnes of the San Francisco Police Officers Association attacked the chief for his stance on the ballot measure.

“Since he has arrived here he has shown absolutely no leadership,” Delagnes told the San Francisco Examiner. “He has really pretty much just become a shill for City Hall on every single issue. I think it’s because he just doesn’t want to lose his job.”

Delagnes disagreed that the ballot measure would prevent the Police Commission from changing Taser policy.

“That is 100 percent wrong,” Delagnes said. “Nothing in my view prevents the Police Commission, or the Board of Supervisors for that matter, from reaching out to us and tweaking it and passing a resolution that would in effect tweak the policy without going back to the voters.”

The ballot measure would allow 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 ballot measure would prevent the Police Commission and Scott from approving a policy that is inconsistent with the measure.

Advocates typically argue that Tasers are a needed less-lethal alternative to firearms. When it reviewed the SFPD, the DOJ recommended that the department strongly consider arming officers with the devices.

On the other hand, critics say that Tasers are frequently ineffective, tend to be overused as a means of subduing suspects and can lead to serious injury or death for those suspected of a crime.

John Crew, a former attorney with the ACLU and longtime critic of Tasers, said that the measure is “a direct attack on the COPS collaborative reform process.”

“We hope the word gets out that chief of police who is pro-Taser is saying this is not the way to do it,” Crew said. “The Taser ballot measure is not just about whether or not San Francisco should have Tasers, it’s about who should be able to regulate them and what sort of process should be used to implement the policy.”

Crew said the question remains whether mayoral candidates like London Breed, who support arming officers with Tasers, are in favor of the ballot measure.

This story has been updated with additional information.

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