Police use of chokeholds is a ‘liability’

Stop choking and start using Tasers, a city-hired consultant tells the police, warning that officers are exposing The City to “unnecessary liability” using a technique that was banned by several major police departments as early as the 1990s.

The use of force policy says San Francisco officers can use, in descending order, “verbal persuasion, physical control, liquid chemical agent, carotid restraint, department-issued baton and firearms.”

Carotid restraint is a chokehold in which an officer squeezes someone’s neck between the officer’s forearm and bicep. The hold cuts off blood circulation and causes the person to become unconscious.

In the 1990s, the use of carotid restraint was hotly debated after the technique was blamed for the deaths of suspects. New York, Miami and Chicago have long banned the hold.

“The SFPD use of force policy allows officers to use the carotid restraint in nonlethal circumstances,” the report says. The department should deploy Tasers, otherwise known as “conductive energy devices,” as an option of force between use of a baton and use of firearms. The device shoots two barbs into the skin of a suspect’s body. The barbs are connected to the gun by a wire and deliver a 50,000-volt shock in five-second intervals, incapacitating the subject.

Though Tasers have been controversial when discussed by the Police Commission in the past, support for the stun guns has increased. Opponents of Tasers say the medical effects have not been adequately tested and are  concerned officers will use the devices in unjustified instances.

The Aug. 7 officer-involved shooting of 56-year-old Teresa Sheehan in her Mission-neighborhood home, after she allegedly threatened a social worker and police officers with a knife, renewed the debate.

Following the shooting, police Chief Heather Fong expressed support for Taser, and Police Commission President Theresa Sparks told The Examiner that officers should be equipped with the stun guns by next year.

A Taser “has the potential to reduce officer and suspect injuries that would normally occur when officers go ‘hands-on’ to control and apprehend a suspect.” Of 16 similar police agencies nationwide, only this city’s and Memphis’ police departments do not use Tasers, the report says.

jsabatini@sfexaminer.com

 

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