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SFPD Chief Delays Taser Debate

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On Aug. 19, 2012, Police Chief Greg Suhr scheduled three community forums in October 2012 to discuss his proposal to the Police Commission to approve hundreds of thousands of dollars on Tasers replacing guns in mental health crisis situations. Suhr cancelled the Community Forums at the last minute, the first happening during a World Series game, which he needed to be at, the second and third cancelled at the request of Commissioners wanting to look at different locations and format.

Crisis Intervention Team Training /
CIT Verbal De-Escalation History

In May 2001, one month before SFPD shot No-Taser Task Force member Mesha Irizarry’s son Idriss Stelley 48 times at the Metreon during a mental health crisis, Mental Health Board Executive Director Helenya Brooks wrote and conducted the original Crisis Intervention Team training. This first CIT training was underwritten by Brooks, Marykate Connor, Caduceus Mental Health Outreach Director, and retired SFPD Lieutenant, Michael Sullivan among others. Since, 1996 community had been pushing for PCI, but the police resisted.  Many people believe if the SFPD had fully embraced this model – the same model that turned out so successfully in Memphis developed around the same time, Idriss Stelley would still be alive today.

On March 15, 2002, Police Crisis Intervention—including a mandatory 40-hour mental health training for SFPD officers to learn verbal de-escalation techniques—was unanimously approved and funded by the San Francisco Board of Supervisors. Three weeks later it was ratified by former Mayor Willie Brown. Eventually, 74 officers took the training until it was progressively and completely defunded in 2008. No other parts of Police Crisis Intervention were implemented, such as the discharge protocol.  The March 15, 2002 vote specified that 25% of the force would be trained every fiscal year until eventually the entire force was trained. Based on the successful Memphis, Tennessee model, Verbal De-escalation was to be conducted to help people in public mental health crisis without the use of weapons.

‘Non-lethal’ Weapon Taser VS ‘Lethal’ Gun Debate Revived

In July, 2012, SFPD shot and killed mentally ill Pralith Pralourng. At the Aug. 1, 2012 SF Police Commission meeting—held with little public notice—SFPD Chief Greg Suhr announced his intention to place Conducted Energy Devices (CEDs), or Tasers, in SFPD officers’ hands ostensibly on the pretext that Tasers are ‘less lethal’ than guns.

At the  same meeting, on the strong objections of Commissioner Angela Chan who did not think a vote should take place, a majority of Commissioners voted to table Chief Suhr’s proposal until stipulations and several key criteria in an earlier February 23, 2011 resolution were met.

That Feb. 23, 2011 resolution, approved by a 6-1 vote of the San Francisco Police Commission, stated the Commission’s charge:

“To authorize the Chief of Police in conjunction with the OCC and two (2) members of the police Commission:

“To develop a proposal for modifications of DGO 5.01, ‘use of force’ and DGO 10.02 ‘equipment’ and;

“To investigate and evaluate Conducted Energy Devices and all other less lethal weapons based on independent scientific research and;

“To develop and recommend a proposal for a pilot deployment program with specific proposed policies and guidelines for their use. Further;

“To develop these proposals in consultation with communities of color, mental health professionals, LGBT and other key segments of the community and;

“To set forth proposed costs and funding for the proposed plan;

“Direct the Chief of Police, OCC, and two designated members of the police Commission to report back to the Commission with their findings and recommendations within 90 days; [The 90 days unaccountably stretched out to 18 months]

“Also to direct the Chief of police and OCC, and two (2) members of the Commission to review and make recommendations to the Commission on changes to the police department’s tactical training regarding the use of force within 90 days.

“Deployment of any pilot program is subject to prior approval by the commission.”

No-Taser Task Force Champions 2011 Resolution and Presses Concerns

Community members present at the Aug. 1, 2012 Commission hearing became concerned that Tasers in SFPD hands could lead to torture by electrocution, maiming, and possible deaths of San Franciscans in crisis. Soon thereafter, they formed a No-Taser Task Force to hold the Chief and Commission accountable to fulfill the obligations of this resolution. Specifically, No-Taser Task Force members at every Commission hearing since have expressed their deep concern to the Chief and Commission that;

Since tasers have killed over 800 U.S. citizens including 92 Californians since 2001, the ‘non-lethal’ label is a deceptive misnomer.

Tasers can cause fatalities in at-risk groups like children, elders, pregnant women, low body mass index (thin) individuals, people with heart conditions, diabetics, and drug users.

Tasers are now commonly deployed nationwide by militarized police as a compliance torture device against nonviolent U.S. citizens.

Resolution wording — “changes to the police department’s tactical training regarding the use of force” — includes Crisis Intervention Team training in verbal de-escalation without use of lethal or non-lethal Taser weapons for all SFPD officers. During Acting Captain Balma’s presentation at the Oct. 17 Commission meeting/ Community forum at the South of Market Recreation Center, he stated that ten Southern Station officers have completed the CIT training, and five more are scheduled to take the training in November.

Since the Feb. 23, 2011 resolution binds the Commission and police chief “To develop these proposals in consultation with communities of color, mental health professionals, LGBT and other key segments of the community,” community forums are best scheduled in districts most likely impacted by Taser use. No-Taser Task Force attendees at Police Commission hearings have repeatedly called for community forums in poor, Hispanic, or African-American neighborhoods including the Tenderloin, Mission, and Bayview-Hunters Point Districts, not skirting the edge of Fillmore / Pacific Heights or the primarily upper middle class white and Asian Sunset, or what Mesha Irizarry calls ‘hippie Potrero Hill,’ strangely designated by Commission Secretary, Joe Monroe, as ‘Bayview/Mission Districts.’

The police chief and Commission sub-committee have partially agreed. The rescheduled forums will take place before mid-December and will be held in three neighborhoods: Bayview, Tenderloin/Civic Center, with the third held in a west side location.

Required Community Forums Re-arranged

Since the resolution binds the Commission to solicit input from community groups, on September 19, 2012, during a Police Commission meeting at City Hall, Room 400, SFPD Chief Greg Suhr and the six Commissioners present — Suzy Loftus, Angela Chan, Petra De Jesus, Thomas Mazzucco, Carol Kingsley, and Julius Turman — set dates for neighborhood community forums to discuss Suhr’s plan for Use Of Force and Taser implementation.

At the Wed/ Sept. 19, Commission hearing, Chief Suhr and the Commission cancelled a first community forum date, Sept. 24, while a meeting announced only on the Central Station Newsletter was set up at the Koret Auditorium for Sept. 24. Commissioner Julius Turman returned Mesha Irizarry’s phone call verifying that this Koret community meeting had been cancelled.

At the Wed/ Oct. 17, South Station Community forum, Commission Secretary Joseph Monroe repeated dates and locations of Community forums the Commissioners and Chief Suhr had scheduled at the Sept. 19, 2012 Commission hearing.  There were to be three community forums, in the Fillmore, Sunset and Potero Hill.  On or shortly after October 22, 2012, Chief Suhr and the Commissioners cancelled the community forums.

On Oct. 22, 2012, as No-Taser task force attendees arrived at the Hamilton Center Community forum for their 5:00 p.m. pre-meeting press conference, they found a notice posted on the door stating that the date was changed to a month later.

On Nov. 20, 2012, Nick Kimura, Shelter Advocate with Community Housing Partnership and No-Taser Task Force member informed the group that all Community Forums were cancelled.

Why Did Chief Suhr Cancel the Community Forums?

The No-Taser task Force doesn’t know whether the November 20 meeting at the Hamilton Recreation Center will ever happen. However, word, has come that, when the Chief and Commission subcommittee made up of Commissioners Angela Chan, Julius Turman, and Suzy Loftus are ready, the Community Forums will, indeed, be rescheduled.  The locations and sites have been chosen. The remaining task is to establish the schedule.

Community members are strongly encouraged to come out and voice their opinions. States Irizarry, “Officers who are supposed to be competent and compassionate in de-escalation should not carry weapons that can kill.”

As she departed Hamilton Recreation Center with other disappointed task force members, Carmen Simon, mental health professional, observed,

“The idea that weaponry is a positive mental health harm reduction intervention seems ridiculous, inhumane and unjust. Tasers go against everything San Francisco stands for.”

Carol Harvey is a San Francisco political journalist specializing in human rights and civil rights. She can be reached at


Author: Street Sheet Editor

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