The dilemma with police and their relationship to the community is among the many social issues in the forefront of students’ minds. For our particular community in San Francisco, the San Francisco Police Department (SFPD) is presenting us with a new challenge. It is shocking for Foghorn staff to learn that officers of the SFPD do not carry tasers. However, last Friday the San Francisco Police Commission voted 4-3 to supply the police force with tasers.
Like most who are considering this decision, the staff of Foghorn advocates that tasers be implemented in accordance with both the law and with special consideration to minority groups who face the brunt of police violence. Yet we are also shocked that such a large and influential city such as ours would be lacking this in its police department.
In all, tasers should be phased into use much like application of police body cameras. Tasers can cause harm and require specific policies for their use. Therefore, this equipment must be gradually introduced to the police force and their use in the field closely monitored.
However, such a decision was not as clear cut during the meeting of the Police Commission. According to local ABC 7 news, the meeting was “contentious” and lasted an entire seven hours. The source of this contention lies between the San Francisco Police Officer’s Association (POA) and activists in the Bay Area. The POA advocates that the policy authorizing the use of tasers cannot be overly restricted or else there is no use in their procurement.
So far, the only opposition to this proposal has presented a weak argument against the adoption of tasers. Those opponents claim that tasers can still be deadly and that their non-lethal capability leads to more frequent use by officers. While it’s true that tasers can cause harm, recent instances of deadly force makes this argument pale in comparison to the larger issue. The staff of the Foghorn demands that police use de-escalation and non-lethal techniques before resorting to lethal force. So far, SFPD only has the option of a baton strike and barrage of bullets to subdue an individual.
The truth is officer’s must protect themselves and others, but one can still protect themselves without killing another. Certainly this must be true for instances where the attacker is not armed with a firearm. It seems an obvious choice for law enforcement to stop the situation in a less-than-lethal manner. To this, the Foghorn and the SFPD are on the same side of the coin. Tasers must be employed, but not without gradual introduction and a cohesive policy for their use.
The San Francisco Police Chief William Scott would like officers to carry tasers by 2018 and stated that “it is critical that we submit a solid policy based on national best practices.”
This is not a light subject and recent cases of unjustified shooting of civilians by police such Alex Nieto in 2014 and Luis Gongora in 2016 are just an example of that. These confrontations, one with a neighbor and another with a homeless man, did not need in their deaths. While the circumstances may vary case to case, SFPD officers must have a non-lethal option available to them to prevent unnecessary harm to civilians.