Last Friday, all four mayoral appointees in the Police Commission voted yes on the approval for the San Francisco Police Department to use conducted electrical weapons, or tasers, in San Francisco. This underhanded decision was done despite the overwhelming disapproval for the opposition.
The myth of tasers not being “real” weapons falsely reinforces the Police Commission’s idea of how officers can use this weapon to reprimand people safely.
The SFPD should instead invest more in psychological training for both the psychological health of the police officers and the psychological practice of detaining people without causing unnecessary serious injuries.
Tasers were introduced as a way to replace and reduce the use of dangerous weapons and cause less harm, but this idea is contradictory, considering how fatal the use of tasers can potentially be. It is impossible to lessen the danger of weapons, like guns, by replacing it with another dangerous weapon.
Data used in a memorandum written by the Bar Association of San Francisco, noted that in the U.S. alone, there are “1005 incidents in which people died after police stunned them with tasers.” This data goes on to say that the vast amount of victims included were people from vulnerable communities, such as people of color and individuals who suffer from mental health issues and breakdowns.
The memorandum stated that the people who are physically susceptible to serious injury or death from tasers are the elderly, people with cardiac or pulmonary conditions, people who are extremely agitated or physically and mentally exhausted from overexerted struggling and people who are under the influence of narcotics or alcohol.
In this political climate, this list basically names anyone who is being detained. There is mistrust between police officers and detainees who fear for their safety, especially people of color.
The SFPD has a history of racial bias. The racial bias was so apparent that the Department of Justice had to intervene to report that the many outdated policies that the SFPD used were unnecessary, especially the use of force to minorities. The report goes on to say that many “disparities were found in traffic stops, post-stop searches, and use of deadly force against minorities.”
This decision to approve the tasers to use as an alternative will not help to de-escalate the issue in hand.
A representative from Axon, formally known as Taser International, made a statement during the decision process at City Hall.
They claimed that a good way to subdue an uncooperative person was to remove their voluntary muscle control, which can be achieved with tasers. In retrospect, yes, this could be a good way of handling dangerous criminals, but what about people who are mentally unfit and are acting on their illness and not their own will?
Ariel Garza, from New York, was a disabled man who was tased to death on Nov. 2, 2016 for acting erratically. Witnesses mistook him for holding a knife, when in fact he was holding a 12oz bottle of hot sauce.
Garza was not aware of the situation and did not reply appropriately, and thus was killed by the NYPD. I bring this particular case to attention because the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) reports “Nearly 1 in 25, (10 million), adults in America live with a serious mental illness.”
NAMI also reported that, “African American & Hispanic Americans used mental health services at about half the rate of whites in the past year and Asian Americans at about one-third the rate.”
These statistics are alarming because out of the 2,245 officers that SFPD have only around 30 percent of them are trained and have Crisis Intervention Team (CIT) certification to help them de-escalate cases, especially those who are mentally ill. This leads me to believe that a substantial amount of people are at risk to be victims to this weapon.
Before we equip our police officers with another weapon, we should develop clear protocols to evaluate when it is appropriate to use these weapons and hold police officers accountable when they break these protocols.
If we do not condemn police officers for abusing their authority, the distrust between police authorities and the public will continue to grow.