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San Francisco Police Chief Greg Suhr Drops Taser Proposal

by carol harvey Monday, Apr. 15, 2013 at 10:11 AM

San Francisco Police Chief Greg Suhr is the fourth chief in a decade to propose cops use tasers while talking people out of public crisis. For the fourth time, this proposal was met with powerful citizen opposition..

For the fourth time in a decade, San Franciscans are celebrating yet another victory in blocking a new police chief's attempt to arm San Francisco cops with tasers. On Wed, April 10, 2013 SFPD Chief, Greg Suhr withdrew his proposal to allow elite Crisis Intervention Teams to use stun guns to talk down people in public crisis on City streets.

Following the July 2012 officer-involved shooting death of a mentally ill man who cut a co-worker non-fatally, Suhr asked the Police Commission to approve tasers as a weapon 'less lethal” than a gun. Suhr said he felt a “moral obligation” to ask the Commission to “afford our officers something short of a firearm” so both they and the public would face reduced risk.

Four previous police Chiefs, Heather Fong in 2004, George Gascon in 2010, and Jeff Godown in 2011, met with solid public opposition in their attempts to revive the taser option.

Finally, a Feb. 23, 2011 Resolution voted 6 to 1 by the Commission directed a subcommittee to work with the police Department in researching less-lethal options to guns, only one of which was tasers. It also mandated outreach to gather citizen input, “in consultation with communities of color, mental health professionals, LGBT and other key segments of the community” toward recommending a proposal for a pilot deployment program.

Four community forums were held in early 2013, three called by the Chief and the Commission and one organized by a grassroots effort in the Tenderloin neighborhood of San Francisco where the majority of public incidents involving people in mental health crisis occur. Community response continued to be overwhelmingly anti-taser.

Public testimony disclosed 781 taser-related U.S. deaths.

University of California San Francisco medical researchers and Taser International itself disclosed that tasers were relatively safe for thick body mass individuals, but could damage or kill small body mass young and elderly people, people with cardiac problems and diabetes, and fetuses in pregnant women. Tased individuals balancing on ledges or balconies could fall to their deaths. People wet from rain or standing in water could be electrocuted. An elevated number of taser deaths were reported among the mentally ill, primarily people in crisis --- the original target population.

After the fourth forum disclosed 99% of public commenters strongly against tasers, Suhr stated publicly that “Constraints put on the officers” by citizen suggestions “are so onerous” “they would be reticent to use the Tasers at all. Limitations on the pilot program suggested by the public would have been more harmful than helpful.

"I still feel that we have a moral obligation to afford our officers something less lethal than a gun." … "I am still mystified, frankly, that we couldn't seem to make those who don't understand understand that we were asking for something short of a firearm."

The people “who don't understand,” seemed to be San Franciscans present at the forums who believe “something short of a firearm” should be Crisis Intervention Team Training, shown by de-escalation experts to be highly effective over weapons, lethal or nonlethal. During the Tenderloin community forum, Crisis Intervention trainer Laura Guzman demonstrated steps illustrating that talking down someone with a gun or a knife, “Is very do-able.”

Said Mesha Irizarry, police brutality expert whose son, Idriss Stelley, was shot by cops 48 times during a mental breakdown in 2001, “'the Power of People” and 'grassroots action' won this [decade-long] battle against tasers.”

Irizarry gave an appreciative nod to the many organizations involved in the no-taser effort, The Idriss Stelley Foundation, the San Francisco Coalition on Homelessness, Hospitality House, San Francisco Mental Health Association and Mental Health Board, Gray Panthers, Officers For Justice, the ACLU of Northern California, and others.

“Organizers put in thousands of hours working constituency by constituency, citizen by citizen,” she said. “But, unless citizens came to express their concerns very vocally, the organizers wouldn't have got anywhere. Elders and disabled people in wheelchairs left the comfort of their warm homes on cold winter evenings to say, “'Do Not Do This! No Tasers!”

Idriss Stelley Foundation Program Director, Jeremy Miller congratulated The Police Commission saying it, “should be commended for engaging this issue seriously in a manner that befits their political responsibility. But, it was the People of San Francisco who forced Suhr’s hand, not the Commission,”

Miller addressed the growing concern, verified by a cursory scan of You Tube videos, that more and more often tasers are being casually abused nationwide by police and security officers for pain compliance.

“Tasers torture and kill,” warned Miller. “They are unaccountable weapons for unaccountable officers.”

Memphis, Reno, and San Francisco are the only U.S. cities where police do not have tasers. San Francisco is a huge loss for Taser International, financially and politically.

Irizarry noted, “Three times we defeated Taser International's SFPD contract. “Enough is enough.” After the electorate is educated on the brutality of tasers, she will explore a taser moratorium for San Francisco like the Vermont petition.

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