The San Francisco Police Department has recently been involved in three incidents that have called into question their use of firearms. The latest of which included an officer-involved shooting in San Francisco occurred Jan. 4 when police shot a man in a wheelchair who had been vandalizing city vehicles and attacked an officer with a knife.
Now, the police commission is slated to review its stance on the use of non-lethal weapons, in the form of stun guns.
Interim Chief of Police Jeff Godown and a group of experts will stand before the Police Commission on Feb. 23 to propose the implementation of stun guns for city officers, according to Lt. Tim Falvey.
Erika Contreras, an 18-year-old international relations major at SF State, believes it would be safer for the city if officers were issued electric stun guns.
“Tasers are less dangerous and they won’t allow police to make stupid mistakes,” Contreras said.
According to records, the commission “narrowly” rejected the department’s proposal to explore the possibility of using Tasers last year, citing safety and liability concerns. Meanwhile, the U.S. Supreme Court has not ruled on setting guidelines for when it is appropriate for law enforcement to use Tasers.
An SFPD spokesman said the department could not comment further due to a recent policy that prevents it from commenting to high school and college news publications.
A medical researcher at Wake Forest University Baptist Medical Center in North Carolina published the first study of injuries from Taser use in 2009 and according to his findings, serious injuries happened in less than 1 percent of 1,201 Taser uses by law enforcement officers.
“Tasers appear to be very safe, especially when compared to other options police have for subduing violent or combative suspects,” said William P. Bozeman, M.D., in his study. “That is not to say that injuries and deaths are impossible. Police and medical personnel need to be aware of the potential for serious injury and look for evidence that a person subdued by a Taser has been hurt.”
Vance McLaughlin, an expert in use-of-force and a professor in the criminal justice department at Jacksonville State University in Alabama, said deaths could not be attributed directly to Tasers because police don’t always use them on healthy people who are unwilling to cooperate with officers.
“A person on cocaine, for example, can die from any type of vigorous exercise or activity that easily accelerates the heart,” McLaughlin said.
Someone struck by a Taser experiences stimulation of his or her sensory nerves and motor nerves, resulting in strong involuntary muscle contractions.
McLaughlin, a former deputy police chief in both Georgia and North Carolina, said police officers throughout the country need better training to be equipped with options when confronting aggressive situations.
“If police knew different pressure points in the body and were physically stronger, they wouldn’t only feel comfortable in pulling a trigger, whether it is one of a fire-arm or Taser,” McLaughlin said.
Currently, San Francisco, Detroit, Boston, and Washington D.C.— four of the nation’s major cities with a population of 500,000 or greater— do not deploy Tasers, said Steve Tuttle, spokesman for Taser International Inc.
“By far, California has more law enforcement agencies using Tasers than any other state with more than 800 law enforcement agencies, courts and jails,” Tuttle said in an e-mail.
The seven-member SF Police Commission did not respond to requests for comment.