The San Francisco Police Commission on Wednesday night decided again to hold off on allowing the Police Department to use Tasers.
Police Chief Greg Suhr had asked the commission for permission to allow the department to start a pilot program with Tasers following a fatal officer-involved shooting in the city’s Financial District last month.
But the commission decided to hold off on a decision for at least 90 days until the department can study all less-than-lethal options and consult with various community groups.
San Francisco police had previously broached the subject with the Police Commission in 2010 and 2011 under previous police chiefs.
The latest proposal by Suhr, who took over as the city’s top cop in April 2011, called for Tasers to be given to the 70-plus police officers who are part of the department’s crisis intervention team, which responds to incidents involving potentially mentally ill suspects.
Suhr said he decided to push for the use of Tasers after the death of Pralith Pralourng, 32, who was fatally shot by an officer after allegedly lunging at her with a box cutter on July 18.
“I can’t tell you how badly I felt about it,” he said.
Suhr said the death might have been avoided “if we had an alternative at our disposal, but we did not.”
However, some commissioners immediately pushed back against the proposal, saying it needed more vetting from the public. Notice was given only last Friday that the issue would be discussed at Wednesday’s meeting.
“I’m extremely upset that this is happening so quickly,” Commissioner Angela Chan said.
Chan noted that the last time the Police Commission had taken up the issue in February 2011, it passed a resolution that asked the department to study other less-than-lethal options and consult with stakeholders before coming back with a report within 90 days.
However, she said, that plan was never carried out.
Pralourng’s sister, Savee Pralourng, also spoke against the proposal to the commissioners, saying she did not want her brother’s death to be used for political purposes.
“I don’t think it’s right to use my brother just to pass a policy to use Tasers,” she said.
Clay Winn, a representative from Taser International, made a presentation to the commission and argued that the devices lower injury rates to both officers and suspects, and that they are in use in almost every major city in the country.
Suhr pointed out that even Memphis, which San Francisco last year modeled its crisis intervention team after, decided to adopt Tasers in December 2011.
That seemed to sway commission vice president Joe Marshall.
“We were told ‘Look at Memphis, look at Memphis.’ Well I’m still looking at Memphis,” Marshall said.
Most of the attendees at Wednesday night’s meeting opposed the proposal, including Micaela Davis, an attorney with the Northern California chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union.
Davis said that “community stakeholders should be more involved,” and that the devices would have too high of a cost.
Following the commission’s decision, Suhr told reporters that he was “disappointed” with another delay.
“I was hoping for action, but I’m respectful of the commission and respectful of the process,” he said. “I’m just hopeful that we don’t get into another situation between now and when we get to where everyone can live with whatever we get that’s short of a firearm.”
Dan McMenamin, Bay City News