San Francsico police chief withdraws request to use Tasers

April 11, 2013 5:45:33 PM PDT
San Francisco Police Chief Greg Suhr has withdrawn his contentious proposal to equip officers with stun guns as part of a pilot program. While he does believe arming officers with Tasers would save lives and that the force still needs some non-lethal option to guns, Chief Suhr says it's just not going to be Tasers.

Unlike his two predecessors, Chief Suhr did not want to put Tasers in the hands of all officers, just a select group of 75 crisis intervention officers. But after months of policy making by the Police Commission, Suhr abandoned ship Wednesday night.

"If you have a tool and you can't use it, why bother having it?" Chief Suhr asked.

Suhr says the constraints, to name a few, included everything from young people, old people, people in crisis, the mentally ill, wet people, and people near roadways. Officers pausing to consider all this might put them and the public more at risk.

"We're still months away from the final product," Suhr said. "And we're already to the point where it creates too much calculus on the part of the officer, too much to ask."

Suhr believes he would have gotten the four votes necessary from the Police Commission. But San Francisco Police Commissioner Julius Turman thinks the chief is right to think that all the restrictions might have backfired and caused more harm than good.

"In crafting this policy there are a lot of considerations that we had to think about," Turman said. "Some of it would have called for a great deal of deliberation by a police officer in a very short time frame."

SF Police Officers Association President Gary Delagnes blames some of the commissioners for forcing the chief's hand. In a statement he said, "Again, some police commissioners have shown their complete lack of understanding with regards to the effectiveness of Tasers. The continual liberal nonsense spewed by some police commissioners will undoubtedly cause more deaths because they cannot see what virtually every other city in America has already acknowledged, their position in indefensible."

The ACLU is pleased that Tasers are no longer an option.

"Tasers are not a simple alternative to firearms," ACLU attorney Micaela Davis said. "Tasers are not non-lethal, they're in fact less-lethal. Taser carry a risk of serious injury and death so the idea that a Taser would be a simple alternative to a firearm is false."

While supporters of Tasers believe they are a non-lethal option compared to firearms, the ACLU says officers and dispatchers need to be trained in solutions such as de-escalation techniques.

The chief proposed the Tasers back in July after police shot and killed a man armed with a box cutter in the Financial District. The man was on the run after stabbing a co-worker. In August, the chief told the Police Commission he wanted to prevent another deadly shooting.

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

The Police Commission has rejected Tasers twice over the past three years. Out of the 20 largest metro areas in the country, San Francisco police is the only agency that does not use Tasers.

The group Officers for Justice, which represents African-American police officers, was against the Taser proposal -- saying the weapons would be used mostly on minorities and drug addicts.

Chief Suhr says he feels there is a moral obligation to continue searching for another non-lethal option, and that that is what he will do.

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