SF Police Commission approves TASER policy for officers

The commission voted to adopt a policy regulating how officers can use TASERs, bringing a months-long debate to an end

By Evan Sernoffsky
San Francisco Chronicle

SAN FRANCISCO — The San Francisco Police Commission voted to adopt a policy Wednesday night regulating how officers can use Tasers, bringing a months-long debate over the electroshock weapons to an end and clearing the way for the rollout of the devices at the end of the year.

The Police Commission approved arming officers with Tasers in November, following years of debate, but waited to approve a policy on their use. The commission voted 6-1 Wednesday in favor of the policy developed by the Police Department and several community working groups.

In this Nov. 14, 2013, file photo, a Taser X26 sits on a table in Knightstown, Ind.
In this Nov. 14, 2013, file photo, a Taser X26 sits on a table in Knightstown, Ind. (AP Photo/Michael Conroy, File)

The Police Commission ironed out 11 final items before the vote. Commissioner Bill Hing was the lone dissenter. Officers won’t be equipped with the weapons until December at the earliest.

“I’m very happy,” Police Chief Bill Scott said after the hours-long meeting. “We can move now toward implementation. It was a well-vetted process.”

The 24-page addition to the Department General Order encompasses a multitude of regulations on Taser use and accountability measures, including the appointment of a review board that will oversee and investigate cases in which stun guns are used.

Once armed with Tasers, officers will only be allowed to use them when a person is “armed with a weapon other than a firearm, such as an edged weapon or blunt object” and is injuring or intending to injure another person.

Tasers may also be used if a person is violently resisting, and only officers with crisis intervention training are authorized to carry the weapons.

Officers are limited from using Tasers in special circumstances, including when a person is pregnant, elderly, frail, appears to be a child or when the officer has “credible information” the person is suffering from a serious medical or psychiatric condition.

“I know some people won’t agree that we are going to have this weapon, this device, but the important part is that we invited the public to the process and they were an instrumental part of getting to this point,” Scott said.

The department will begin purchasing the weapons while officials develop a plan for rolling them out.

“There’s still a lot of work to be done,” Scott said. “At the end of the day, our officers will have equipment and the community will be safer, and I think we have a very thoughtful, well-thought out, vetted policy.”

Still looming is a Taser measure on the June ballot put forth by the San Francisco Police Officers Association that would offer less-restrictive guidelines and overrule the Police Commission’s authority on their use.

The commission was scheduled to vote on whether to oppose Proposition H, but declined to do so Wednesday.

If it passes, the proposition could be amended only at the ballot box or by an ordinance adopted by a four-fifths vote of the Board of Supervisors.

Opponents of the measure, including Scott, said the legislation would restrain the Police Commission’s power. In a letter to the city’s Department of Elections, he called the effort “the antithesis of the spirit” of reforms recommended in 2016 by the U.S. Justice Department.

Scott was hired in late 2016 as a reformer chief tasked with implementing the Justice Department’s reforms after former Chief Greg Suhr was forced to resign, following several controversial police killings.

Mayor Mark Farrell, a longtime ally of the police union, came out in favor of Prop. H earlier this month, but this week said he would back off his support if the Police Commission “adopts a policy that works for both our officers and the community.”

In an email following Wednesday’s vote, Farrell said he was glad the Police Commission approved the policy.

“I have always said that I would support a ... policy that works best for the community and for our officers, and the plan approved by the Police Commission does that,” he said.

Police union representatives did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

Supporters of the Police Commission and department’s work on approving a Taser policy hope Wednesday’s vote will sway voters to reject Prop. H.

Proposals to arm police officers with Tasers in San Francisco have been debated and rejected for more than a decade, leaving the city’s police force as one of the last major department’s in the country without them.

Critics of Tasers have questioned whether the weapons are effective, pointing out that in some cases, officers have shot people when they cannot subdue them with a Taser. In some cases, shocks from stun guns have led to deaths.

©2018 the San Francisco Chronicle

McClatchy-Tribune News Service

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