San Francisco, CA – The San Francisco Police Department is the last urban police force in the United States that has not equipped its cops with Tasers as a less-lethal force option, and if politicians in that city have it their way, officers will never get them.
In November of 2017, the San Francisco police commission finally authorized Tasers for its officers, and San Francisco Mayor Mark Farrell put $2 million in the budget for the coming fiscal year to buy the electronic stun guns, KGO-TV reported.
But on June 25, the city’s Board of Supervisors voted 3-2 to cut the mayor’s budget proposal for the Tasers, preventing the city from buying them.
Supervisor Sandra Lee Fewer made the motion to defund the Taser project and said she wanted a more "comprehensive" understanding of the total costs of arming police with the less-lethal weapons before moving forward, KGO reported.
Fewer said her decision was based on costs, and not the politics surrounding the fact that she opposes giving police Tasers.
“I feel my job on the budget committee is to weigh everything with a budget focus,” she told the San Francisco Chronicle. “This has been about fiscal and financial responsibility. That’s what the people of San Francisco deserve.”
Fewer cited a budget analysis prepared by the city that said the upfront cost of purchasing and implementing Taser use would cost the city upwards of $7 million up front, despite the fact the police department had only requested $3.5 million.
However, the study upon which she based her decision was out-of-date and inaccurate, according to San Francisco Police Commander Peter Walsh.
Commander Walsh said the report by the city’s Budget and Legislative Analyst’s Office estimated the costs of purchasing and implementing the Taser program on numbers from the sheriff’s department from more than a decade ago, the San Francisco Chronicle reported.
He said the sheriff’s department paid $2,200 per Taser, and that the San Francisco PD would be able to acquire them for $1,600 each.
“We’re talking about a $600 difference, and if you multiply that across 2,000 officers, that’s a dramatic drop,” he said.
He also said there was no reason to add money into the budget for Taser training because that was already covered within the department’s training budget. Eight hundred of the city’s officers have already been trained on Tasers.
The holdup by the Supervisors could undo a lot of work that’s been put into the implementation process by the San Francisco Police Department, the city’s Police Commission, and the officers’ union, the San Francisco Chronicle reported.
“The policy goes through an arduous process and all of that seemingly could be lost, which would be a shame,” San Francisco Police Officers Association Vice President Rick Andreotti said. “My concern is, what kind of message does that send to the men and women of the San Francisco Police Department? That politics is more important than not only their safety, but the safety of the people of San Francisco.”
Upcoming changes to the city’s Police Commission will not help the cause of Taser advocates.
The commission president died in May, and another police-friendly commissioner did not get reappointed, according to the San Francisco Chronicle.
Add to that the fact that the Board of Supervisors didn’t approve the reappointment of two commissioners who were in support of the Tasers because they were seen as being in cahoots with the police union.
Furthermore, a ballot measure called Proposition H put forward by the Police Officers Association failed in the June election, KGO reported.
Had it passed, Prop H would have allowed police to use Tasers on anyone actively resisting officers, and set a firm deadline that would have put the less-lethal devices into the hands of all San Francisco officers before the end of 2018.
Retired American Civil Liberties Union attorney John Crew celebrated the Supervisors’ move to cancel funding for Tasers.
“We cannot pretend the last eight months didn’t happen,” he said. “The Police Commission voted that we’re going to do Tasers, and there could have been an orderly process of how to budget them and roll them out. But the police officers association chose to blow it up and tried to undercut the chief and the commission with Prop. H.”
The police department has the opportunity to present documentation of what it said were the accurate costs associated with implementing the Taser program.
“You can always request a midyear budget appropriation,” Fewer said. “We do that all the time.”
San Francisco Police Chief Bill Scott, the fourth chief in a row to advocate for arming the police force with Tasers, has not given up.
Chief Scott said he was working on the accurate budget to present to the board and continuing to move forward internally with training and planning for when the Tasers are approved, the San Francisco Chronicle reported.
“We will continue with the things we had to do with implementation,” the chief said. “It’s just a matter of timing.”