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Stun guns brought before Police Commission for third time in five years

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Police Commissioner Petra DeJesus speaks Wednesday night during a meeting at City Hall about the use of force within the San Francisco Police Department. (Ekevara Kitpowsong/ Special to S.F. Examiner)
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Shot down twice in past years, stun guns were once again up for discussion in The City on Wednesday night — and met with loud public opposition.

A draft policy to equip San Francisco police officers with stun guns — commonly referred to as Tasers — was presented to the Police Commission by Police Chief Greg Suhr as part of a larger package of use-of-force reforms. The proposal is intended as the first step in a move to prioritize de­-escalation techniques following the fatal shooting of Mario Woods at the hands of the San Francisco Police Department on Dec. 2 in the Bayview.

Most public commenters opposed the revival of stun guns as a policing tool, and several commissioners opposed the inclusion of the weapon in any use-of-force reforms.

“I don’t believe they should be equipped with Tasers,” said Rodger Scott, a teacher at City College of San Francisco. “They are obviously dangerous weapons.”

Police Commissioner Petra DeJesus echoed the concern.

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“Are we voting to get Tasers into the department?” she asked. “It’s a little ass-backward.”

Curt Wechsler holds sign outside of San Francisco City Hall on Wednesday night during the Police Commission's meeting about use of force. (Ekevara Kitpowsong/ Special to S.F. Examiner)

Curt Wechsler holds sign outside of San Francisco City Hall on Wednesday night during the Police Commission’s meeting about use of force. (Ekevara Kitpowsong/ Special to S.F. Examiner)

Despite the opposition — and past defeats — police leaders and Mayor Ed Lee have kept up the pressure for the implementation of stun guns. Last week, Suhr announced he would bring the proposal forward. And in December, Lee publicly called for stun guns and directed Suhr to draft a proposal.

Since then, the San Francisco Police Officers Association has joined in the push for the weapons and went as far as paying for a recent radio spot, which touted the stun guns as tools.

“In a dangerous situation, when nonviolent means have been unsuccessful and other non-lethal tools have proved insufficient, what San Francisco police officers need are Tasers,” said POA President Martin Halloran in a statement before the Wednesday meeting. “Tasers are standard equipment in other cities, and we need them here ­­now.”

Proposal details
The San Francisco Police Department’s draft policy would prohibit the use of stun guns on pregnant woman, children, unarmed persons, fleeing persons and anyone who is passively resisting, among others. The policy also says stun guns are not to be used on subjects with firearms, but that they may be used when a subject is armed with another weapon, such as a knife.

Suhr’s proposal, which would allow a small group of tactically trained officer to use the less-than-lethal weapons, was only one of the policies presented Wednesday night. The POA has also drafted a policy on stun guns, though it mainly differs from Suhr’s in terms of who would be equipped with the weapon.

Under the POA plan, all Crisis Intervention Team-trained officers would carry a stun gun. Like Suhr’s proposal, said officers will keep defibrillators in their vehicles when possible. Annual training would be mandatory, and each discharge of the weapon would be reported.

Similar moves to issue stun guns were shot down in 2009 and 2011.

Opponents have argued stun guns — delivering a powerful electrical shock that can render a person temporarily incapacitated — are dangerous, unregulated and could be used excessively by officers. The weapons have also been implicated as contributing to deaths.

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