SFPD Chief George Gascon renews call for Tasers

January 5, 2011 6:31:30 PM PST
San Francisco's police chief is renewing his call to arm his officers with Tasers following Tuesday's shooting of a man in a wheelchair. It was the second officer-involved shooting in two weeks in San Francisco.

Chief George Gascon believes Tasers may provide a good "less than lethal" option and that they should be part of his department's arsenal of weapons. He also wants to see if his officers need more training.

The suspect in the wheelchair had just stabbed in the shoulder an officer who tried to subdue him with pepper spray. Police fired a bean bag at him. As he tossed his knife, two officers fired their guns. He fell wounded from his wheelchair.

Gascon says a Taser would have produced a different outcome.

"A Taser more than likely would have ended this scenario probably at the earlier stages but we don't have a Taser," Gascon said.

Last spring the police commission rejected Gascon's proposal to buy Tasers after raising questions about safety and abuse.

Gascon says he wants to review department policies on training in the aftermath of the shooting.

"We will be evaluating tactics and techniques that are being taught today that we should be teaching and whether there are additional tools we should be having," Gascon said.

Gascon asked the public not to pre-judge what happened based solely on video taken by a witness. He says it has to be put in context with the mechanics of how officers react to threats. He says all of them go through force training simulators to avoid making fatal mistakes.

But Disability Rights Advocates lawyer Mary Smith believes police departments need to create a special unit to deal with mentally ill suspects.

"This specialized unit could be composed entirely of officers who have had specialized training, it could be composed of non-officers who have had specialization in dealing with people with mental illness," Smith said.

Some cities have such special units which respond along with regular beat officers to situations where there are suspects with mental health issues. The LAPD, where Gascon came from, is one of them. San Francisco does not have such a unit.

Gascon says he will ask the police commission to approve Tasers at its February meeting.