Police Use of Tasers
Policy for the Use of Tasers by San Francisco Police Officers
Requires that all SFPD officers be equipped with electronic stun guns by December 2018, subject to training, supervision, reporting and accountability requirements.
What the Measure Would Do
This measure would authorize the San Francisco Police Department (SFPD) to purchase and deploy Tasers (a brand of electronic stun gun) for each uniformed officer beginning as early as August 2018, subject to training, supervision, reporting and accountability measures. Should the proposition pass, all officers would be equipped with these electronic weapons by December 31, 2018.
Only police officers who successfully complete the SFPD’s new de-escalation training would be authorized to carry Tasers. The measure would give police officers the right to use Tasers whenever they believe someone is “actively resisting, assaultive, exhibiting any action likely to result in injury to an officer, themselves or another person.” Every time an officer uses a Taser, intentionally or unintentionally, the SFPD would be required to conduct an investigation. Should the measure pass, it would require that funds be allocated annually to implement and support the program. Prop. H would give the Police Commission and the SFPD the right to create orders or policies to implement the ordinance as long as they are consistent with the ballot measure.
The ordinance could only be changed or rescinded by a future vote at the ballot box or by an ordinance adopted by a four-fifths vote of the Board of Supervisors.
In 2016, the Police Commission revised the SFPD’s use-of-force policy to put more emphasis on the sanctity of life, instructing officers on de-escalation tactics and using force as a last resort. At the same time, the U.S. Department of Justice, after conducting a six-month review of the SFPD’s practices, issued a report that included 272 recommendations for department improvements, two of which addressed the use of Tasers. The report recommended that the SFPD and the Police Commission work with key stakeholders and community members to make an informed decision about the use of Tasers in San Francisco and that San Francisco should “strongly consider deploying [Tasers].” The SFPD is one of the last major police forces in the country without Tasers.
In November 2017, the Police Commission voted 4-3 to allow the SFPD to equip police officers with Tasers as a use-of-force option. This is noteworthy as the Police Commission had rejected or tabled several previous proposals for Tasers over the past 13 years. The evidence in favor of Tasers is not clear-cut. While proponents of Tasers argue that they are a less lethal alternative to firearms and can de-escalate situations and reduce injuries to people and officers, opponents note that Tasers are disproportionately used on people of color and vulnerable populations and that the introduction of Tasers has not led to a reduction in police use of firearms.
The San Francisco Police Officers Association, the union representing the SFPD, was displeased that the Police Commission’s vote did not include guidelines or funding and would not allow SFPD officers to use Tasers until December 2018 — two years after the new use-of-force policy went into place. The association led a successful effort to collect voter signatures to place this measure on the June 2018 ballot.
Since the measure was placed on the ballot, the Police Commission has requested funding for Tasers and finalized its Taser policy in March 2018. The policy was developed over several months with input from the SFPD, the Police Officers Association and community stakeholders and includes extensive research into legal and medical considerations and lessons learned from other jurisdictions.
There are several differences between the ballot measure and the Police Commission’s policy. Notably, they differ on when officers can employ Tasers. The ballot measure would allow the use of Tasers when an individual is “actively resisting,” whereas the Police Commission’s policy only permits Taser use when an individual poses a credible and immediate threat of physical injury to an officer or the public. In addition, the Police Commission policy requires officers to de-escalate when feasible before resorting to Taser use. Because Prop. H states that any orders or policies to implement the Taser ordinance must be consistent with the ballot measure, the more lenient language in the measure would supersede the Police Commission’s more restrictive conditions.
The police chief, the president of the Police Commission and the mayor have come out against this measure.
- The measure would leave some discretion for the police chief and Police Commission to issue general orders and policies regarding training and the use of Tasers.
- The Police Commission — the body appointed by the Board of Supervisors and the mayor to create policies for the SFPD — is an expert commission and its role is to help the SFPD set policy, budgets and strategy. Police department policy should be determined by the police chief and the Police Commission in response to the city’s public safety goals and needs, not by the voters.
- The ballot measure would force an accelerated timeline for the implementation of Tasers that is inconsistent with the timeline set by the Police Commission in recognition of the reforms the SFPD is currently implementing to further its de-escalation policy.
- The measure would prevent the Police Commission and the SFPD from altering the policy should new best policing practices arise or should there be issues with the use of the weapon. The policy could only be changed or rescinded by a future ballot measure or by an ordinance adopted by a four-fifths vote of the Board of Supervisors.
- The measure would allow for a more permissive set of policy conditions surrounding the use of Tasers than the Taser policy developed by the SFPD, which could increase the use of Tasers, harm people and expose the city to unnecessary liability.
Decisions regarding use of force and similar policies should be decided by the Police Commission and not at the ballot box. The expedited timeline this measure would put in place is not necessary and not worth circumventing the authority of the SFPD and the Police Commission. Furthermore, the conditions outlined in the measure are more permissive than the parameters established by the Police Commission and the SFPD, many of which would be moot should the measure pass. The SFPD and the Police Commission engaged in thoughtful deliberation with a range of stakeholders on the use of these weapons in San Francisco, taking into account the city’s values around use of force and de-escalation and the use of Tasers on vulnerable populations.
San Francisco should not be locked into an approach that is out of step with the expectations of the Police Commission, the SFPD and community stakeholders or that would thwart the Police Commission and SFPD’s ability to govern the use of the weapon.