SF Police Commission hears Taser debate

August 1, 2012 12:00:00 AM PDT
When should police use Tasers on a subject? This is something that officers around the country are wrestling with and it came up tonight at a meeting of the San Francisco Police Commission.

Out of the 20 largest metro areas in the country, the San Francisco Police Department is the only agency that currently does not use Tasers. They are the only police agency in the Bay Area that does not use Tasers, so the Police Chief Greg Suhr made a plea to the police commission to possibly employ a pilot program.

"I'm not asking for it for the entire police department, I'm asking for it for our crisis intervention trained officers, there are 74 of them right now," said Suhr.

The chief was immediately met with skepticism from the commissioners who refused to vote on a pilot program for Tasers. They expressed concern over only arming officers trained to deal with the mentally ill.

"I would have asked the city attorney for a legal opinion whether we can actually pick a class of our citizens, of our mentally ill, and say we're going to use a Taser against them, but no one else," said San Francisco Police Commissioner Petra DeJesus.

This debate was triggered by an officer-involved shooting on July 18, 2012, when a 32-year-old suspect, armed with a box cutter, was gunned down in the Financial District after assaulting a coworker. The suspect, Pralith Pralourng, died and his sister made a plea to the commission.

"I don't think the Taser would help solve anything. All I know is that there is a need for real changes because they need to know how to deal with mental illness," said Pralourng's sister.

An UCSF expert on Taser-induced heart failure urged commissioners to consider that kind of data when designing their policy.

"The distance between the chest wall and the heart is much smaller in a thin person, in an elderly person, in children, so you definitely want to avoid Tasering in a young person," said Zian Tseng, M.D.

"You don't know the mental and physical background of the person you're taseing right on the street and that can increase the rate of death just as much as an officer-involved shooting," said Micaela Davis, an ACLU attorney.

"I can't do anything about the last person, but again, my matter of conscious was I want to do something right now, tonight about the next person," said Suhr.

Again, no vote was taken Wednesday night, but the discussion has begun. The San Francisco Police Department is probably one step closer to at least seriously considering using Tasers. There will be more discussion and a public hearing later this month.


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