by Carol Harvey
Forced by the San Francisco Police Commission’s own Feb. 23, 2011 resolution requiring community outreach on whether to put tasers in SFPD officers’ hands, Chief Greg Suhr and the Commission, after several 2012 cancelled dates, finally scheduled and held the required community forums where Suhr, Richard Corriea, and Mikail Ali described the Electronic Control Weapon [ECW} proposal and invited community input. The Commission’s final vote is projected for April 2013.
Public commenters at the Jan 22 Hamilton Recreation Center, the Feb. 4 Scottish Rite Center, and the Feb. 11 Bayview Opera House forums, joined San Francisco taxpayers since 2001 in soundly rejecting Chief Suhr’s proposal to initiate a pilot program to arm Crisis Intervention Team officers with tasers, often lethal when used on people in mental health crisis and on medications or substances.
Hamilton commenters cited too much violence and police corruption. The Scottish Rite group protested cops tasing folks in mental health crisis; the Bayview demanded immediate respect
WHY DOES CHIEF SUHR REALLY WANT TASERS?
Chief Suhr’s rationale for tasers? He claims tasers would have prevented last summer’s shooting death of mentally ill Pralith Pralourng. Since his Aug. 1, 2012 taser proposal to the Commission, like every preceding police chief, he has resurrected the questionable argument that, though tasers pose a death risk to a wide range of groups, tasers are ‘Less-Lethal’ than guns. Ho admits, “Medical experts say that although police classify stun guns as “less lethal” weapons, they can still kill.” However, Ho quotes Dr. Zian Tseng, cardiologist and UCSF associate professor claiming a negligible “1.4 deaths per 100,000.” This claim, says Meesha Irizarry of the Idriss Stelley foundation, “is a falsity. That’s biased, and that’s not good journalism. We are now fighting a known 781 taser-related deaths. There are many more deaths in jail house custody that never appear in coroner’s reports. 781 deaths is huge! Five deaths since January 1, 2013 is huge!”
WHY DO SPFD CHIEFS KEEP RESURRECTING THE TASER SPECTRE?
Why did Police Chiefs Heather Fong, George Gascon, Interim Chief Jeff Godown and now Greg Suhr, from 2009 to 2013, keep revisiting tasers for the SFPD ‘tool box,’ though San Franciscans have said an adamant NO!
On Friday, Feb. 28, 2013, Michael Eisenscher, ‘Pentagon Spending’ expert, told Progressive Democrats of America during a San Francisco Unitarian Church Sequester forum, “We are living with the consequences of the militarization of our foreign policy here at home. Our police Departments are being militarized.
“If you were downtown in Oakland during Occupy and you saw the police response, what you saw was a paramilitary or a military response.
“Every police department has a budget from the Pentagon to acquire weapons that are used by the military, and they can apply for grants if they don’t have money in their budgets.” Of police departments nationally, only Reno, Memphis and San Francisco lack tasers. Anti-taser groups suspect the Pralourng death provided the taser trigger to full-scale militarization.
At the Hamilton and Scottish Rite forums, Commander Mikail Ali, made a perfunctory stab at presenting other supposedly non-electrical less-lethal weapons under consideration. Ali described a pepper ball as: “a silicon ball; inside of it is a pepper spray substance that, upon impact, opens up and creates a cloud of pepper spray that a person would be dealing with — 30 to 50 feet in terms of accuracy.”
Ali’s powerpoint presentation displayed overhead:
PepperBall Technologies – A pepper spray field ball delivery system
Pixeon – JXP – A handheld pepper spray delivery system
FN Herstel Group – FN 303 – Combination of an impact and chemical agent projection system
Advanced Weapons Technology – Super Talon – A Handheld projector of a Kevlar Nylon mesh net originally designed for animal control officers to humanely capture animals.
Phazzer Electronics and Taser International both manufacture Electric Control Weapons
IS SFPD COMMITTED TO THE HIGHLY TOUTED MEMPHIS MODEL FOR CRISIS INTERVENTION TEAMS?
Inconsistencies and Contradictions
The Memphis Model, as cited in the Commission Resolution, would train and develop an elite team of officers especially proficient at de-escalation techniques. During the forums, Greg Suhr and his Commanders seemed dismissive – almost unaware – the power of this Team approach.
In fact, SPFD officers routinely talk of Training, not Teams.
“Officer Carlos Manfredi, a police spokesman, said all officers have received training in working with mentally ill suspects.
“We de-escalate these situations all the time,” he said. “Our officers are de-escalating these situations on a daily basis.”
Said Irizarry, “That’s a false statement. According to Suhr himself, currently only 118, not 10,000, officers are trained in de-escalation — 118! That’s a little over one percent of the force. It’s not all of them.”
At the Feb. 11, 2013 Bayview Community Forum, Coalition on Homelessness Executive Director, Jennifer Friedenbach, C.I.T. Working group member, pressed the point to police Chief Greg Suhr, that C.I.T. means Crisis Intervention TEAMS, not Crisis Intervention TRAINING.
Friedenbach then listed 8 out of the 54 as-yet unrealized components of the Team training — 118 out of 450 officers not yet trained; full 20-hour training for all 1,800 officers on communications skills incomplete; the 911 Protocol not fleshed out; partial development of the elite Team itself learning de-escalation techniques with people in psychiatric crisis; Team supervision unrealized; no plan on what to do upon arrival at the scene, and no post-incident reviews.
Suhr looked back blandly, saying, ”We’re trying to train as many police officers [as possible.] We don’t want them in teams because one might not be available. We want most trained so that you get SOMEBODY. That’s been successful for us in the last two years.”
He seemed unaware the Commission’s Resolution binds him to the Team approach, and that he himself confirmed several times that only Crisis Intervention Team officers can carry tasers.
In fact, two Station Captains, focusing only on their officers receiving Training, were not talking in terms of Teams. During an Oct. 17, 2012 Community Forum, Acting Capt. Balma (Southern Station) at SOMA Commission meeting spoke only about CIT ‘Training.’ When Commissioner Angela Chan pressed Balma on whether his Southern District officers use verbal de-escalation crisis team training, he described unsophisticated Tenderloin crisis intervention — and not in teams.
At the Feb. 27 Commission meeting at the Marina’s St. Vincent De Paul School, Capt. McEachern, (Northern Station), spoke only about CIT training. He confirmed separately he is trying to get as many officers as possible trained in crisis intervention, not necessarily in teams.
When Coalition on Homelessness’ Lisa Marie Alatorre asserted that, in contrast to the list of other less-lethal weapons and deployment of Crisis Intervention Teams, Chief Suhr had focused the forums solely on tasers, Suhr erupted in a defensive denial, insisting “I am Chief of Police!”
Perhaps this noteworthy reaction betrays the actual agenda playing out in the subtext of this taser debate.