SAN FRANCISCO—While the San Francisco Police Department pushes forward to equip some of its officers with stun guns, concerns of health risks, additional costs, and overuse remain.
At a community meeting on Jan. 22 at the Hamilton Recreation Center, Chief of Police Greg Suhr said that SFPD needs “as many tools in the toolbox you can before you go to guns.”
He cited the example of a fatal shooting in July 2012, when a mentally ill man was wielding a knife at a female officer, who allegedly had no other option than to shoot him.
The meeting was the first in a series of three in which the Police Commission seeks to receive input on whether to approve a pilot program for stun gun use in the city. SFPD seeks to equip 74 officers who are members of the Crisis Intervention Team (CIT). Three commissioners were present at the meeting.
San Francisco is one of a few big cities in the United States where the Police Department does not employ stun guns. Attempts in the past decade by the SFPD to allow the use have been denied by the Commission.
Stun guns, or electric control weapons, are weapon systems that release an electrical discharge of 50,000 volts, capable of immobilizing a suspect. The most commonly used one are made by TASER International.
Supporters describe them as “less lethal weapons.” They argue they are an effective means of intervening without using deadly force in order to prevent injuries and save lives of officers, suspects, and bystanders.
A draft of the SFPD guideline for the use of stun guns allows them when a “subject reasonable presents an imminent threat to him or herself, the officers, or others on scene and lesser force options are either not effective or not practicable.”
Members of the community who spoke at the meeting were largely opposed to the introduction of stun guns.
Lisa Marie Alatorre, from the Coalition on Homelessness, cited several studies conducted by cardiologist Dr. Zian Tseng, of UC San Francisco. Tseng showed that deaths increased after the introduction of Tasers into California police departments.
Amnesty International attributes at least 500 deaths in the United States between 2001 and 2012 to the use of stun guns.
Michaela Davis, attorney from the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) voiced concern that the use will result in “community alienation and the subsequent undermining of public confidence in the Department.”
She raised the concern that stun guns bear “the risk of overuse and unnecessary use.” Critics have accused police departments for routinely overusing stun guns in nonthreatening situations in order to disarm suspects or control situations.
Several speakers brought up health concerns, citing cases when members of vulnerable groups, like pregnant women, youths, skinny people, those with heart conditions, and others, have died from the application of stun guns. Amnesty International attributes at least 500 deaths in the United States between 2001 and 2012 to the use of stun guns.
Jeremy Miller of the Idriss Stelley Foundation criticized how stun guns were disproportionally used against African-Americans. According to Miller they have a 300 percent higher likelihood of being targeted.
Miller also pointed out the potential costs resulting from litigation. Lawsuits over the misuse of stun guns have already cost cities in California already more than $ 10 million since 2009, he said.
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