An exchange during the San Francisco Police Commission’s discussion of its new crisis response policy last week hinted at the attitude of some commissioners towards SFPD’s renewed push to equip patrol officers with Tasers. Although the Commission rejected SFPD’s requests for Tasers last year, citing safety and liability concerns, the police department took up the cause again in the wake of three recent officer-involved shootings of mentally ill people.
Commissioner Petra DeJesus, who led the successful opposition to implementing Tasers last year, raised the issue with Sam Cochran, a retired Memphis Police Department Major who helped create the Crisis Intervention Team model SFPD will adopt. DeJesus asked whether MPD’s CIT officers carry Tasers.
At first, Cochran said, CIT officers were equipped with the less-lethal electronic weapon, but took them out of service because of burns incurred by suspects who were tased after being sprayed with an alcohol-based chemical agent MPD carried at the time. MPD eventually replaced the tasers with the SL-6 impact launcher, which can fire a range of non-lethal projectiles.
MPD currently has three levels of impact weapons in addition to chemical sprays and a foam used to slow down the movement of a suspect. Tasers, Cochran said, produced results that “were not as advertised,” and the department ultimately decided against returning to Tasers because of their high cost.
The Police Commission has not scheduled a formal hearing on SFPD’s request. In an interview last week with KQED, Interim Police Chief Jeff Godown characterized Tasers as “less than lethal,” not “non-lethal” weapons, but still expressed his support for equipping SFPD officers with the device. Godown expects to go back to the Police Commission later this month and ask permission to explore the use of Tasers for SFPD. Here are some Chief Godown’s remarks on Tasers:
John Brooks: Do you think Tasers could cut down on some of these shootings?
Godown: I’m not going to sit here and say that the specific shooting of the gentleman in the wheelchair, which I know you know about, could have been prohibited by a Taser. I think a Taser is one more tool in the toolbox that I would like to give our officers to use, to not have to use deadly force. But I’m not going to sit here today and say that one could have been eliminated with a Taser.
People have to understand, a Taser is less-lethal, it is not non-lethal. There have been instances in this country where people have died because of the use of a Taser. And people will die again, I can guarantee you, depending on their medical issues or whatever might be. But a Taser is one more tool I think we need to arm in the toolbox. And the Taser is separate from the mental ill[ness] issue, as far as I’m concerned.