Although the community needs more tools to address violence, homelessness, and people facing mental health crises, giving police tasers is not the solution. SFPD and city leaders must prioritize the use of non-weaponized, de-escalation methods by well-trained Crisis Intervention Teams, not the addition of another potentially deadly weapon to an already over-militarized police force.
Tasers are dangerous weapons. In a 2008 report, “Less than Lethal,” Amnesty International found that from June 2001 through August 2008, there were 334 deaths from TASER International products in the U.S. And, according to a UCSF study: “The number of in-custody sudden deaths rose dramatically during the first year California law enforcement agencies began using stun guns ....” Deaths mostly involve cardiac arrest, though there are many other risks to life and limb from the use of these weapons. These weapons override an individual’s nervous system, paralyzing muscles and causing the individual to fall and lose control of bodily functions. The fall alone can cause broken bones and other significant injury. Tasers cause excruciating pain. The United Nations Committee Against Torture has declared that tasers cause acute pain and sometimes death, and that their use is a form of torture.
Chief Suhr has used the fatal shooting, last July, of an individual by an officer as providing the impetus for his pushing the issue. But there is little proof that the officer in that incident would have used a taser in that circumstance if one had been available, or that the officer’s use of a taser would not have resulted in death. More relevant than that one example are the many examples of police interactions with residents daily, where officers don’t don’t currently fire guns but would use a taser, if available.
The fact is, when given a new weapon, officers are more likely to find new opportunities to use them, rather than use them as a replacement for other weapons. Adding tasers is likely to lead to more violence from officers against the community, not less. As a progressive community, San Francisco must not go down this path. We should follow the lead of other communities and law enforcement agencies that have realized, often far too late, that tasers are a risky tool of violence, not a tool designed to decrease violence; and that they create significant legal liability for local government. As a recent example, the University of Cincinnati removed tasers from its police force following the death of Everette Howard Jr. Howard’s family announced a $2 million settlement with the University just this year.
At a time when many of us are facing economic uncertainty, and resources for mental health care and education are suffering, it is disconcerting that cities would turn to law enforcement as a solution to problems of homelessness, mental illness and violence. San Francisco needs to bypass this dangerous tool and begin to focus on real solutions that respect human rights and dignity.