Residents wonder at second hearing on Tasers whether they will be heard

Chief of Police William Scott addresses the community at the end of the meeting. Photo by Kaitlin Benz

There were those who came with questions, those who came to lecture and those with prepared notes that they held between their trembling hands as they spoke.

Some 80 residents from across San Francisco filed into City College’s student union Tuesday night and took their seats in bright orange plastic chairs to talk about Tasers and whether the San Francisco Police Department should get them. Most said no.

And, as the second and final community input meeting on Tasers proceeded under the glare of florescent lights, many who were against Tasers expressed doubt that the San Francisco Police Commission would actually consider what the community had to say.

“There’s been a lot of skepticism over whether the community input is being considered by the commission,” said Sheryl Davis, the executive director of the San Francisco Human Rights Commission, which has hosted the community meetings over the last two weeks.

But Davis said she will bring the community’s input to the commission. She added that she has already started analyzing last week’s meeting, where the top concerns were that Tasers contradicted de-escalation techniques, and that they would be disproportionately used against people of color and people with mental illness.

Those doubts were also clear at Tuesday’s meeting.

As one working group dove into Tasers’ track record, arguing over research, questioning Tasers’ reliability and officers’ training, a man named Rico Hamilton stood up to talk about the conflicting feelings in his community.

Introducing himself as from San Francisco’s Western Addition, Hamilton said, “A lot of young people I know would rather have an alternative to a gun.”

“I personally struggle with this. Do I want Tasers? Sorta. But do I really want Tasers? No.”

“It’s not a situation you can win,” said Hamilton, a coordinator with San Francisco’s Street Violence Intervention Program.

During the evening, Julie Traun, an administrator with the Bar Association of San Francisco, pointed out the laundry list of manufacturer’s warnings that come with Tasers.

Julie Traun addresses one of the discussion groups. Photo by Kaitlin Benz.

Darby Thomas, a member of Democratic Socialists of America, said that conditions like “being underweight, being dehydrated” predisposed one to having a lethal reaction to the thousands of volts delivered by a Taser.

“Those are things that can affect everyone in this room,” she said.

Some residents stressed that a bevy of promised accountability measures, which Scott has taken pains to emphasize at public meetings, were a bulwark against abuse.

But to Dayton Andrews, an organizer with the Coalition on Homelessness, the Taser debate itself runs counter to a “progressive wave of reform” sweeping departments like San Francisco’s.

The first thing “the department needs to be doing in order to build trust — not fix trust, build trust — is to give themselves less weapons, to increase this de-escalation training,” he said.

Along with about 20 San Francisco police officers and Police Chief Bill Scott, three Commissioners attended the meeting including Julius Turman, the Commission’s president, Petra DeJesus and Sonia Melara.

“What I’m kind of hearing tonight is the community doesn’t trust the police,” said DeJesus, who added that she is against Tasers. “Why do you need another weapon? The community has asked that over and over again, and no one has really answered that.”

Turman said that he didn’t yet have an answer for whether Tasers would be effective and appropriate for San Francisco.

He added that he felt attendees of the meeting were 60 percent against Tasers, while also noting that a “vast majority” of the emails he’s personally received before last night’s meeting supported the adoption of Tasers, and 70 percent of the letters he received after last week’s meeting supported Tasers.

“There’s a lot to consider,” Turman said. He said he was looking forward to reading the Human Rights Commission’s report on the community meetings.

Police officers in attendance also listened, remaining on the periphery of groups but ready to jump in with responses to specific questions about Tasers or the department’s proposed policy.

Police Chief Scott told Mission Local that most of the officers in attendance on Tuesday night either sat on one of the department’s working groups on reform, or had past experience using Tasers while working in other cities.

Scott remained seated behind a table that divided the room in half throughout the discussions.

“We know CED’s are risky,” said Scott, referring to Tasers by the acronym for Controlled Energy Devices. “But we believe the benefits outweigh that.”

Disagreeing with some of the attendants’ statements that Tasers are contrary to de-escalation techniques, Scott said the devices “are part of a bigger package of de-escalation” because they allow officers to subdue someone.

Scott, who was appointed to head the SFPD at the end of 2016, spent his previous 27-year career at the Los Angeles Police Department, an agency that has used Tasers for years.

Several attendants at Tuesday night’s meeting raised concerns that the Taser model SFPD was seeking to acquire was newer and therefore had not been tested as thoroughly as older models.

They pointed to a 2015 investigation by the Los Angeles Times that found that LAPD’s use of the newer model, which delivers half the power, had a 47 percent failure rate.

Traun from the Bar Association told her group that a former Houston police officer is suing the manufacturer of Tasers after her device failed to detonate. The officer is claiming the device is unreliable and therefore puts officers at risk.

But Scott said he has no concerns about the newer model. He believes the Los Angeles Times article misinterpreted the data and overestimates the model’s failure rate.

“They do fail sometimes, but every piece of equipment we use fails. Nothing is 100 percent accurate.”

As the evening came to an end, Scott stood up to give a closing remark.

Speaking over some hisses and outbursts against Tasers, Scott said he truly believed Tasers would help minimize injuries.

But ultimately, Scott said, the decision is not his.

“We will live with that decision, whatever that decision is.”

All in all, it was not a particularly good day for the city’s reform efforts. Earlier in the day, the Department of Justice announced that it was effectively ending its collaborative reform programs with law enforcement agencies around the country, including San Francisco.

Scott said he will continue to implement the 272 recommendations made by the Justice Department in 2016, but with Tuesday’s retreat from the Justice Department, no federal funding will be offered for such reforms.

Sam Goldman and Julian Mark contributed to this report. 

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One Comment

  1. KeepSF TrulyPeaceful

    The SFPD do not need another weapon, they need more outreach to all
    the Supervisor’s districts and the San Francisco community at large.
    Brand-spanking new-to-his $300K+ salary, highest paid police chief in
    the U.S.A., SFPD Police Chief Bill Scott has NOT done this yet.

    SFPD
    Chief Bill Scott is playing patty-cake politics with the likes of Mayor Edwin Lee and his entourage of 79 people from City Hall who were conspicuously absent for these meetings.

    Read here:
    http://www.sfchronicle.com/

    Some of those 79 who were not here for these important community meetings against Taser weapons included:
    -San Francisco Supervisor Mark Farrell
    -San Francisco Supervisor Ahsha Safai (entirely corrupt guy and lapdog of Ed Lee)
    -San Francisco Supervisor Katy Tang
    -San Francisco City Administrator Naomi Kelly
    -San Francisco City Tax Assessor Carmen Chu
    -San Francisco City Planning Director John Rahaim
    -San Francisco City Port Director Elaine Forbes.

    The roster also includes an Irish contingent from the Police Department — among them
    -SFPD Deputy Police Chief Michael Connolly
    -SFPD Lt. Brian Philpott.

    On the private-sector side, the manifest includes lobbyists:
    -Chris Gruwell (New Deal Advisers)
    -Nathaniel Haas (Barbary Coast)
    -Sean Keighran, president of the Residential Builders Association, and a list of other construction industry types.

    All of whom are lap dogs of Mayor Ed Lee and more than likely, in favor of Taser weapons. TASERS KILL PEOPLE. Period.

    MESSAGE
    TO THE SFPD: Work on de-escalation training which, unlike Taser
    weapons, has officers backing away from a person in distress. Tasers
    require close proximity of a police officer to the person in distress
    which puts BOTH police officer and person in distress at risk of danger.

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