SFPD receives approval to research less-lethal weapons

The San Francisco Police Commission voted Wednesday to give the police department permission to research the feasibility, cost, training and development of a plan to allow officers to use less-than-lethal means of force, including Tasers.

Last March, the commission voted 4-3 against a proposal developed by then-Police Chief George Gascon to study the use of Tasers, citing liability and safety concerns.

“We need one more weapon to protect the officers and people,” said Thomas Mazzucco, president of the commission. “The gap between a firearm and baton needs to be closed.”

After conducting initial research, the police department will return to the commission to seek approval to use the device it proposes, Mazzucco said.

At Wednesday’s meeting, the police department gave a 45-minute presentation in an attempt to convince the commission and community advocates that the implementation of stun guns is safer than a firearm in the dynamic situations police officers encounter on a daily basis.

“Officers need another tool in the toolbox,” said Interim Police Chief Jeff Godown.

According to a study conducted by the National Institute of Justice in 2005, police officers who are equipped with Taser guns are 70 percent less likely than officers without stun guns to suffer injuries when confronting an aggressive suspect, said Chuck Wexler, executive director of the Police Executive Research Forum.

Angela Chan, one of the new commissioners, expressed concern about the safety and effectiveness of Tasers. A 45-minute presentation followed, featuring experts on studies that show stun guns are not less lethal than a firearm.

One study found that fatal officer-involved shootings more than doubled in the first year of Taser implementation by police departments in California.

San Francisco is among one of four of the nation’s major cities with a population of 500,000 or greater that does not deploy Tasers, said Steve Tuttle spokesman for Taser International Inc.

“Using Tasers properly, the way they are designed, can kill anyone,” said Commissioner Petra De Jesus. “I don’t want our officers to go out with a fallacy.”