Police union ready to back Taser ballot measure

Following a vote by the San Francisco Police Commission in support of arming police with Tasers, the police union is considering putting forward a ballot measure that would shape the policy governing their use, a spokesman said Monday.

The commission voted 4-3 on Friday in favor of implementing conductive energy devices, known widely by the brand name of Tasers, following a tumultuous hearing marked by intense protests and several hours of public testimony, most of it strongly opposed.

The vote included an amendment postponing implementation to December 2018, when the department’s recently revised use of force policy will have been in effect a full two years.

Before they can be implemented, however, the commission will need to approve a policy governing their use.

Nathan Ballard, a spokesman for the San Francisco Police Officer’s Association, said the union applauded the commission’s vote but is:

“… holding open the option of moving forward with a ballot measure to ensure that all of the details are aligned with best practices. …. The union expects the police commission to move swiftly and get a policy in place.”

Ballard added:

“If it doesn’t, we’ll be ready with a ballot measure that the voters will support.”

Commission President Julius Turman, who was among the three commissioners voting against Tasers, declined to comment Monday.

The commission vote on Friday marks a major victory for Chief Bill Scott and the police department, which has been seeking approval for the devices for 13 years.

Previous efforts have run up against intense opposition from community advocates, who argue Tasers can be harmful, or even fatal, and are used disproportionately against minorities and vulnerable groups such as the homeless and mentally ill.

The department renewed its efforts this year, however, under the leadership of Scott, who took over in January. It also has the backing this time of a set of 272 U.S. Department of Justice recommendations for reform issued in October last year, which include a call for the department to consider the use of Tasers.

Police argue that Tasers will provide officers with another less-lethal option other than handguns and cite studies showing that they reduce the risk of injury to both civilians and officers.

Scott on Saturday issued a statement acknowledging the public’s concerns, but calling the devices a:

“… sound, less-lethal force option that complement the de-escalation principles and techniques our officers practice every day. … Before these devices can be deployed, it is critical that we submit a solid CED policy based on national best practices, extensive research and input from medical professionals and subject matter experts to the Commission for consideration and approval,”

Scott added:

“The CED policy will be a thoughtful document developed with input from the community and will include requirements for robust training, strong supervision, reporting and accountability.”

The police union has previously taken strong stances against proposed changes to department policy by the police commission.

It previously fought against a police commission vote to revise aspects of the department’s use of force policy, filing an unsuccessful lawsuit in December 2016 over changes including a prohibition on the use of a control hold known as the carotid restraint and on shooting at moving vehicles.

The current move to float a ballot measure may in part be aimed at the Board of Supervisors, which will probably need to approve funding for the department to implement Tasers. A budget and legislative analyst report released Friday indicates the department could need as much as $8 million up front to arm all of its officers with Tasers, in addition to ongoing costs.

Ballard said the union is confidant voters would pass a ballot measure in support of Tasers “overwhelmingly.”