Police commission to consider request for Tasers

February 17, 2010 6:56:11 PM PST
Tasers could soon be added to the belts of San Francsico police officers. The Police Commission is debating arming the force with Tasers. It's something the chief supports, but not everyone agrees.

Tasers have been linked to a number of serious injuries and deaths nationwide. But Chief George Gascon believes they can be an asset, adding that Boston and San Francisco are the only big city police departments that don't have them.

San Francisco police officers are equipped with a gun and a baton, but no Tasers.

They are officially called conducted energy devices and they deliver electric shocks that disable a person's muscle control. Many of the nation's big city police departments including San Jose and Oakland have them and San Francisco's police chief wants them too.

"It is something we would like to have on our gun belt. It's another tool, another option in the use of force that we have never had," Police spokesperson Lt. Lyn Tomioka said.

The San Francisco police commissioners debated the use of Tasers five years ago, but the idea went nowhere. Now a police department report released last month has them revisiting the issue.

It analyzed 15 officer-involved shootings in San Francisco from January 2005 to august 2009 and concluded one-third might have been avoided if officers had less lethal options.

"It's not so much the Taser. It's how you use the Taser and if, in fact, we had them we would ask that those situations be clearly drawn up just as we do with a gun or a baton," police commission president Joe Marshal said.

The Taser is a weapon that causes excruciating pain. You may remember a home video of a college student in San Jose being Tased by police.

Critics say beyond the pain it can cause death.

Amnesty International claims there have been hundreds of stun gun related fatalities. The ACLU has also tracked Taser deaths and advises San Francisco to proceed with caution.

"Our concern is that they are only used in situations of extreme danger, physical danger. They should not be used as a weapon of first report," Alan Schlosser from the ACLU said.

"This is a tool that when used appropriately it reduces injuries to officers and reduces injuries to suspects," Gascon said.

If the commissioner approves the chief's request, it would be the first step. A policy would then have to be developed and that would take about 90 days and then there are several more steps that include approvals and hearings. The whole thing could take more than a year.