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San Francisco Police Commission debates Tasers

March 3, 2010 12:00:00 AM PST
Late Wednesday night the San Francisco Police Commission was close to a vote on whether to make Tasers part of the equipment each officer carries on the street. It is a contentious issue, one being debated for more than five hours Wednesday night.

The commission heard from two cardiologists who conducted an independent study on the link between Tasers and deaths. They examined data from 50 police departments.

"It is clear that the Taser is not a perfectly safe device, that there is a risk of causing sudden death with the device," said Dr. Byron Lee from UC San Francisco.

The researchers found that deaths from Tasing were extremely rare. Even so, they recommended that the department issue strict protocols to ensure that Tasers are used safely.

"We feel it was appropriate to issue the warning to not taser the chest. The vector over the heart is critical in its risk for lethal arrhythmia," said Dr. Zian Tseng from UC San Francisco.

Gascon has been touting an internal study that found his department may have avoided one-third of officer involved shootings over the past five years if his officers had Tasers.

"The gun or the Taser? Hey for me, it's a no brainer," said Police Commission president Joe Marshall.

Marshall backs the chief, but at least week, four of the seven commissioners voted against Tasers before agreeing to revisit the issue Wednesday night. At the meeting, lawyer Dennis Cunningham spoke against arming police with Tasers.

"It's not that it might not come in handy, it's just the risk of abuse and risk of bad outcomes even without wrong motivation on the part of the cop is way too great," said Cunningham.

Police union president Gary Delagnes supports the chief.

"In every city in America where Tasers have been authorized for use by officers, police shootings have gone down. That means in every city in America where Tasers are used, less people are shot with guns," said Delagnes.

The commissioners have to vote to give their official approval to the city to arm its officers with stun guns. The commissioners will vote on a measure that will give Gascon the right to draft a protocol or a set of guidelines for his officers.


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