Suhr Explains Why He's The Third SFPD Chief To Drop Taser Proposal

Three San Francisco police chiefs have tried and three have failed.

San Francisco police Chief Greg Suhr on Wednesday decided to shelve a proposal to equip some of his officers with stun guns.

The chief said today that although his plan was more fine-tuned than his predecessors’, there was still too much opposition in the community.

Suhr announced his decision at Wednesday’s meeting of the Police Commission at City Hall.

Previously: SFPD Chief Drops Taser Plan: “There’s No Reason To Have It If You Aren’t Going To Use It”

The pilot program would have allowed certain officers who had undergone crisis intervention training to handle the devices, while previous San Francisco police Chiefs Heather Fong and George Gascon had pushed for their use by all officers.

“I thought I had a more practical approach,” Suhr said today.

He had asked for the use of Tasers last year after a deadly officer-involved shooting, saying they would provide officers with a less-lethal option when defending themselves.

Elsewhere

San Francisco police abandon stun gun plan [Ex]
S.F. police need nonlethal option [Chron]

The Police Department held multiple community meetings earlier this year to get recommendations on what the proposal should look like and Suhr said the restrictions that were proposed would have prevented officers from using the devices against almost any type of person.

“It’s young people, it’s old people, it’s pregnant women, some suggested all women, people that are mentally ill, people that are in crisis, which is the exact population we’re trying to not have to harm if they come at the officers. Wet people, which I guess would rule out rainy days, near roadways, and on and on and on,” Suhr said.

He said, “If you have a tool and you can’t use it, why bother having it?”

The chief said the Police Department is still studying other options besides stun guns. Officers currently are able to use a shotgun that shoots beanbags and is the equivalent of “being hit by a hard fastball,” Suhr said.

The chief’s decision was lauded by civil rights and homeless advocate groups, including the group Coalition on Homelessness – San Francisco, which opposed the proposed use of Tasers, saying they are too dangerous and are often used unnecessarily.

“We’re very excited, we think they made the right decision,” said Jennifer Friedenbach, the group’s executive director. “They’re going to save lives by not using Tasers.”

However, the San Francisco Police Officers Association is disappointed that the proposal is not going forward.

Although Suhr said he thought the Police Commission would have approved the pilot program, union vice president Martin Halloran said he thought the Police Commission pressured the chief to drop it.

“The Police Commission is pushing this on our membership,” Halloran said. “It just shows that the Police Commission is out of touch.”

The devices are used by nearly every major police department in the country, as well as the San Francisco Sheriff’s Department, which has had Tasers since 2002.

Gascon, who is now San Francisco’s district attorney, said he was also disappointed that the plan is being shelved.

“This is a tool that would be useful for officers in San Francisco,” he said. “This is a tool that can save lives, but unfortunately we are still facing a level of opposition and I understand why the chief did what he did.”

Dan McMenamin, Bay City News

the author

Eve Batey is the editor and publisher of the San Francisco Appeal. She used to be the San Francisco Chronicle's Deputy Managing Editor for Online, and started at the Chronicle as their blogging and interactive editor. Before that, she was a co-founding writer and the lead editor of SFist. She's been in the city since 1997, presently living in the Outer Sunset with her husband, cat, and dog. You can reach Eve at eve@sfappeal.com.

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  • http://twitter.com/OfficialTASER OfficialTASER

    This was my comment that was posted in the SF Chronicle:

    Steve Tuttle, a spokesman for TASER International Inc., said Thursday the
    decision in San Francisco came as no surprise.

    “In reality, the activists have won a step back to the Stone Age in modern policing by preferring pain compliance and batons to beat dangerous subjects into submission instead of using a safer, more effective and accountable response to resistance,” Tuttle said.

    More than 17,000 law enforcement agencies across the country use Tasers, Tuttle said.

    I also wrote an email to Jennifer Friedenbach, the group’s executive director who said, “We’re very excited, we think they made the right decision. They’re going to save lives by not using Tasers.”

    “Dear Jennifer, I’d l like to just open the dialogue for one moment. I’d like you to not judge or predispose yourself to any opinions until you read my quick email to you.

    “I saw your quote about TASER technology and must admit I’m struck by the statement that you’re going “to save lives by not using Tasers.”

    “I wasn’t surprised by the outcome given all of the controversy concerning TASER devices in San Francisco. However, it’s a shame is that the technology wasn’t even
    allowed to be put to the test to prove or disprove that TASER technology was an advancement forward in safety, effectiveness and accountability. Had it failed, the SFPD would have scraped the program. But just imagine if it had the same results worldwide in which thousands of agencies saw use of force drop while reducing injuries to officers and suspects.

    “Instead, the SFPD is left without the opportunity to prove or disprove the success of TASER technology.

    “Can you name another response to resistance tool that has been studied more (try and get studies from PubMed on baton strikes, impact munitions, OC, fists, kicks, and punches), and you won’t find any of the tools that SFPD uses with any accountability means as our TASER with cameras and its secure Dataport downloads that are independent witnesses to the time, date and duration of each use or the effectiveness of stopping an escalation of force.

    “While I understand that your organization is against TASER devices, I’d like to ask as food for thought, ‘If not TASER at SFPD, then what?’ I’m not talking about when a response to resistance doesn’t require force. I’m talking about stopping someone who is violent and dangerous that would fit a SFPD policy:

    “When the use of force is necessary and appropriate, officers shall, to the extent possible, utilize an escalating scale of options and not employ more forceful measures unless it is determined that a lower level of force would not be adequate, or such a level of force is attempted and actually found to be inadequate. The scale of options, in order of increasing severity, is set forth below:

    a. Verbal Persuasion
    b. Physical Control e.g., passive resister, bent wrist control, excluding the carotid restraint)
    c. Liquid Chemical Agent (Mace/Oleoresin Capsicum)
    d. Carotid Restraint
    e . Department-issued Baton
    f . Firearm

    “We know beating someone to submission isn’t the answer. While I understand the fears of TASER, I don’t understand how anyone could accept choking someone out or beating somebody into submission.”

    So, what’s up on deck next? Bean bag rounds, perhaps. Is this what was won?
    Shooting bean bags (akin to being hit by a major league baseball) at dangerous suspects. Any cameras on those as you’ll really want to see what happens when that occurs for accountability and transparency. Any computer chips that record the time, date and duration on those or on any of those items listed a-f above? Nada.

    Oh I know this sounds like sour milk (it even does to me), but I won’t say congratulations when the alternatives weren’t even at least tried and the alternatives didn’t change at all. The sky is not falling but I can tell you that going back to the Stone Age is no accomplishment to be proud of today.

  • http://twitter.com/OfficialTASER OfficialTASER

    This was my comment that was posted in the SF Chronicle:

    Steve Tuttle, a spokesman for TASER International Inc., said Thursday the
    decision in San Francisco came as no surprise.

    “In reality, the activists have won a step back to the Stone Age in modern policing by preferring pain compliance and batons to beat dangerous subjects into submission instead of using a safer, more effective and accountable response to resistance,” Tuttle said.

    More than 17,000 law enforcement agencies across the country use Tasers, Tuttle said.

    I also wrote an email to Jennifer Friedenbach, the group’s executive director who said, “We’re very excited, we think they made the right decision. They’re going to save lives by not using Tasers.”

    “Dear Jennifer, I’d l like to just open the dialogue for one moment. I’d like you to not judge or predispose yourself to any opinions until you read my quick email to you.

    “I saw your quote about TASER technology and must admit I’m struck by the statement that you’re going “to save lives by not using Tasers.”

    “I wasn’t surprised by the outcome given all of the controversy concerning TASER devices in San Francisco. However, it’s a shame is that the technology wasn’t even
    allowed to be put to the test to prove or disprove that TASER technology was an advancement forward in safety, effectiveness and accountability. Had it failed, the SFPD would have scraped the program. But just imagine if it had the same results worldwide in which thousands of agencies saw use of force drop while reducing injuries to officers and suspects.

    “Instead, the SFPD is left without the opportunity to prove or disprove the success of TASER technology.

    “Can you name another response to resistance tool that has been studied more (try and get studies from PubMed on baton strikes, impact munitions, OC, fists, kicks, and punches), and you won’t find any of the tools that SFPD uses with any accountability means as our TASER with cameras and its secure Dataport downloads that are independent witnesses to the time, date and duration of each use or the effectiveness of stopping an escalation of force.

    “While I understand that your organization is against TASER devices, I’d like to ask as food for thought, ‘If not TASER at SFPD, then what?’ I’m not talking about when a response to resistance doesn’t require force. I’m talking about stopping someone who is violent and dangerous that would fit a SFPD policy:

    “When the use of force is necessary and appropriate, officers shall, to the extent possible, utilize an escalating scale of options and not employ more forceful measures unless it is determined that a lower level of force would not be adequate, or such a level of force is attempted and actually found to be inadequate. The scale of options, in order of increasing severity, is set forth below:

    a. Verbal Persuasion
    b. Physical Control e.g., passive resister, bent wrist control, excluding the carotid restraint)
    c. Liquid Chemical Agent (Mace/Oleoresin Capsicum)
    d. Carotid Restraint
    e . Department-issued Baton
    f . Firearm

    “We know beating someone to submission isn’t the answer. While I understand the fears of TASER, I don’t understand how anyone could accept choking someone out or beating somebody into submission.”

    So, what’s up on deck next? Bean bag rounds, perhaps. Is this what was won?
    Shooting bean bags (akin to being hit by a major league baseball) at dangerous suspects. Any cameras on those as you’ll really want to see what happens when that occurs for accountability and transparency. Any computer chips that record the time, date and duration on those or on any of those items listed a-f above? Nada.

    Oh I know this sounds like sour milk (it even does to me), but I won’t say congratulations when the alternatives weren’t even at least tried and the alternatives didn’t change at all. The sky is not falling but I can tell you that going back to the Stone Age is no accomplishment to be proud of today.