San Francisco Police Chief George Gascon said today that he would still like to add Tasers to officers’ law enforcement arsenal, despite a federal appeals court ruling Monday imposing restrictions on when police can appropriately use stun guns.
A three-judge panel for the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in San Francisco upheld the initial ruling that Officer Brian McPherson of the Coronado Police Department in San Diego County used excessive force when he Tasered Carl Bryan during a traffic stop for a seat belt infraction in summer 2005.
In the 3-0 ruling, Judge Kim Wardlaw wrote that using Tasers is justified only when facts clearly indicate “the suspect poses an immediate threat to the officer or a member of the public.”
A person who is simply behaving erratically or disobeying orders, as Bryan was during the traffic stop, does not justify use of significant force like a Taser, according to Wardlaw.
Gascon, who answered questions about the Taser ruling at two unrelated news conferences today, said this policy is consistent with one he implemented as chief of police in Mesa, Ariz., and the one in place at the Los Angeles Police Department, where he served for 28 years.
“This is a sophisticated weapon system to be used under the right circumstance,” he said. “It should be used when officers fear being assaulted.”
Gascon said he would like to see Tasers introduced to the San Francisco Police Department, and would want a similar policy to guide their usage. He said the city is “one of the few large agencies in the country that does not have a Taser.”
Stun guns cause fewer injuries to both officers and suspects, Gascon said. He called the Taser “a much better tool than beating someone with a stick, or shooting someone.”
Gascon said the stun guns, which deliver a low-level electrical jolt that override the victim’s central nervous system and cause pain and temporary paralysis, must be used with care.
“The Taser is not a non-lethal tool,” he said. “It’s a less-lethal tool.”
Upon assuming the chief of police role in August, Gascon ordered a 90-day study on the use of force within the department. That analysis will be presented to the San Francisco Police Commission in late January or early February, he said.
Early drafts suggest “a Taser would have been a good weapon system to have available,” he said.
In the court ruling, Wardlaw also noted that Tasers can play an important role in law enforcement.
“The ability to defuse a dangerous situation from a distance can obviate the need for more severe, or even deadly, force and thus can help protect police officers, bystanders, and suspects alike,” she wrote.