Staff Editorial: Tasers – Use with care

When a police officer takes the Law Enforcement Oath of Honor, they swear to have the courage to hold themselves accountable for their actions.

But with such incidents as last month when an agitated man allegedly stabbed a San Francisco officer and was almost immediately shot in the groin, it is becoming evident that police officers don’t have adequate regulations concerning the discharge of their weapons.

On Feb. 23, interim San Francisco Police Chief Jeff Godown will go before the Police Commission to suggest that city police officers carry stun guns in addition to their regulation firearms.

After a rash of incidents involving police officers drawing their weapons and discharging them at suspects, one must wonder if the officers have enough training to know that their firearms are a last resort.

How many more similar incidents must occur in order for officers to gain better training on weapons usage?

The last time the commission met on the proposed addition of stun guns, it rejected the proposal citing concerns over safety and liability.

Those issues are not tenuous.

According to a University of California San Francisco study, there has been a significant increase in the number of sudden deaths of suspects still in custody involving police discharging their stun guns. It amounted to six deaths for every 100,000 arrests.

Another study by the American Civil Liberties Union found that while deaths from stun gun usage have risen dramatically, their use and discharge has been left unregulated. While touted as an alternative to lethal force, it is still a 30,000-volt weapon.

One of the biggest manufacturers of stun guns, Taser International, only offers introductory training with police departments holding their own supplemental training to cover any gaps. After the short guidance course, officers are somehow considered experts.

If the SFPD wants to arm its officers with both firearms and stun guns, then they need to outline clear and implementable criteria for the correct usage of the stun guns and adequate training.

Rules and regulations for weapons and stun guns need to be implemented before another accidental death occurs.