San Francisco police Chief George Gascon today said he was baffled at why his proposal to add Tasers to the Police Department’s toolkit was being delayed by the police commission.
“I can’t explain it,” Gascon said, “I can’t speak for others.”
Gascon spoke at a news conference that he said would explain his position and help educate the public on the issue. It followed last week’s split decision by the police commission to delay a vote that would have allowed him to begin drafting a new policy on police use of force that would include “conducted energy devices.”
Gascon today cited a 2009 study by the Police Executive Research Forum and funded by the National Institute of Justice that concluded the availability of Tasers to police reduced the numbers of injuries to both officers and suspects.
In addition, he said, money would be saved by reducing worker’s compensation claims by officers injured by suspects, and by reducing the number of civil lawsuits filed against the department by those injured by police.
“The cost of not having these tools is unexcusable today,” Gascon said.
While acknowledging that the Taser “is not a perfect tool” and “is not non-lethal,” Gascon stressed that despite cases where Taser use has been found to be a contributing factor in a death, thousands of other cases of Taser use result in no injury.
Gascon said San Francisco is capable of crafting “a very well-thought-out, well-written policy” on the use of Tasers by police. He said officers would receive “very in-depth, Fourth Amendment training.”
The commission voted 4-3 on Feb. 17 to delay the vote until next week’s meeting in order to do more research and review public testimony.
Gascon said he met last week with “hundreds” of community members, and the response was uniformly in favor of the department acquiring Tasers.
“And I haven’t heard one yet say, we don’t want you to have the Tasers, so I don’t know where it’s coming from,” he said.
Four commissioners, including one who voted in favor of postponing the vote last week, attended today’s news conference in support of Tasers.
“I’m for increasing safety,” said commission president Joe Marshall.
“To me it’s pretty simple,” Marshall said. “I couldn’t understand the vote last week.”
“I feel that we are negligent … for not having the conductive energy devices,” commission vice president Thomas Mazzucco said.
“It protects the citizens of San Francisco, it protects our officers,” he said, adding that the police commission vote to delay was “foolish.”
Both Mazzucco and Commissioner Jim Hammer, who was one of the four who voted to delay but said today he approved of the devices, said Tasers could be of particular use in cases where suspects with mental illness arm themselves with a knife or another non-firearm and intend to commit “suicide-by-cop.”
Hammer said he voted the way he did in order to allow another commissioner to have more time to study the issue, but agreed that “San Francisco’s use-of-force policy is outdated.” He called for “a careful, smart policy” to minimize injuries from Tasers.
Marshall said following the news conference that he believed the police commission would vote next Wednesday in favor of allowing the Police Department to begin drafting a Taser policy.
Gascon said the actual implementation of the policy, acquiring of the Tasers and training of officers could take up to 18 months.