Police union: Should Berkeley have Tasers?

Berkeley is one of the few cities in the Bay Area that does not equip its police officers with Tasers, electroshock weapons that send an electrical current through the body to temporarily paralyze muscles

The Berkeley Police Officers Association has sent out a survey to 19,000 Berkeley residents asking them their opinion on police use of Tasers.

The BPA posed seven questions in a March 27 email survey to see whether the community considers Tasers as way to assist police and protect suspects, or the opposite.

“This is a very initial step to find out what the community sense is … and go from there,” said Sgt. Chris Stines, the president of the BPA, which represents more than 150 rank-and-file officers.

“There is the sense that some anonymous board or community group is against Tasers,” said Stines. “We are not even completely sure that is the case. … If there is gigantic opposition to it, that’s good for us to know. If there is not,” that is also good for us to know, he said.

The BPA, which purchased the 19,000 email addresses, is sending out the survey on its own, said Stines. It did not consult with or coordinate with Berkeley Police Chief Michael Meehan or other top police administrators. The BPA is talking to City Council members and city officials about Tasers in an attempt to see if the issue has traction, he said.

Berkeley is one of the few cities in the Bay Area that does not equip its police officers with Tasers, which are electroshock weapons that send an electrical current through someone’s body to temporarily paralyze their muscles. Many police departments use Tasers because they provide another way of subduing suspects other than physical force or gunfire. Taser advocates argue that the non-lethal weapons lead to lower gun use and fewer police officer injuries.

Critics of Tasers argue that the weapons can be lethal and that their use can lead to increased brutality to the mentally ill and disabled. They also believe Tasers are disproportionately used on minorities.

San Francisco is in the middle of a heated discussion about Taser use. Police Chief Greg Suhr wants to equip 100 members of its Conflict Resolution Team with the weapon. Many members of the police department support Suhr’s plan, although a group of African-American officers oppose it because they fear the Tasers will be misused.

The last time Tasers were actively discussed in Berkeley was five years ago after officer Rashawn Cummings shot and killed Anita Gay outside her Ward Street home on Feb. 16, 2008. Gay had been threatening family members with a kitchen knife. A police investigation into the deadly shooting concluded that Cummings had acted properly and his actions saved the lives of Gay’s two daughters. After the shooting, some Taser advocates suggested that Cummings might have been able to use a Taser to subdue Gay rather than lethal force.

The issue never got beyond discussion at the Police Review Commission, which was opposed to the use of Tasers, according to City Councilman Gordon Wozniak. The question never came before the City Council.

Wozniak has met with representatives of the BPA and is supportive of Taser use. He thinks police Tasers are an extra tool that should be available to Berkeley officers — with strict conditions on how they are deployed. The guidelines on their use would have to be spelled out, and they should not be used in any or every circumstance, he said.

“Tasers are a useful tool for the police to have,” said Wozniak. “They were overhyped initially of being completely safe, which isn’t completely true, but they are less lethal than a gun.”

Tasers now automatically record and videotape when their safety mechanisms are shut off, said Wozniak.

“I would be in favor of a discussion about it,” said Wozniak. “We should take a good look at where Tasers are now. My feeling is they are less dangerous than a gun and I would carefully consider other their use by the department but I would want some clear rules.”

City Councilman Max Anderson also met with the BPA. He told them he is opposed to Tasers because they regularly kill people. Amnesty International has reported that at least 500 people in the United States have died because of Tasers since 2001.

“There are too many people dying as a result of them,” said Anderson. “Unless you are willing to do a medical history on someone before you shoot, you are really rolling the dice with their lives.”

Anderson also thinks using Tasers will open Berkeley up to more, and more expensive, lawsuits.

“The city often has large claims against it by citizens,” he said. “Most of them are trip and fall. We are able to settle though without too much pain to the city financially. If you get a wrongful death suit, you start getting into a league you don’t want to be in.”

Read the Berkeley Police Officers Association survey.

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  • Truth Sayer

    Guest2. First, you said that you object to my “use of the phrase “Berkeley is under siege.” Please check, and you will see that I never said that Berkeley is under siege. Such incendiary “red meat” words are distasteful and inappropriate. The crux of my argument is that Crime is high in Berkeley, not low. And, I don’t go by the stats reported to the FBI, as most colleges and universities either do not report violent crimes, or report it in a lower category. In fact, many cities do not report crimes to the FBI. This is a fact. The best example is rape. Although reported more frequently by students, many school do not report to the FBI, or report it in a different category, such as sexual assault.or just assault. Since I came from a midwest city about the same size of Berkeley, with low crime, I can see that crime is higher here, and there appears to be a high level of acceptance.

  • Chris J

    I concur, but its their lives on the line, not ours, and even a screaming street person mentally unbalanced can cause anyone harm. Tasers to subdue someone. Perfect. And in lieu of regular firearms? I don’t think so.

    Better training, though. Oscar Grant. End of comment.

  • guest

    HEY TASER HATERS what about this scenario:

    BPD Officer, Badge #XX, (a 29 y.o., 5 ‘7″, 140 lb.s Hispanic female) answers a domestic dispute call. Arriving at the scene she encounters a 6′ 2′, 230 lb.s white male, approx 30y.o., high on meth and blood smears on his shirt. He advances towards the officer.

    He’s thinking: “I just taught my bitch a lesson, now here’s another damn woman telling me what to do…she won’t shoot me, I haven’t got a gun…I’ll take her’s and put her in her place.”

    Our BPD Officer is thinking: “I’ve warned him twice, he’s not stopping. Soon he’ll be too close. If I shoot, I lose my career. If I don’t, I lose my life…

  • The_Sharkey

    Oscar Grant was a two-bit thug who dealt drugs and drove around with an illegal concealed weapon, and who was high and engaged in a roving brawl on a BART car and resisting arrest when he was shot.

    He didn’t deserve to die for what he did, but putting him on a pedestal won’t do anyone any good.

  • guest

    I take it you’ve never heard of John Burris.

  • The_Sharkey

    If you really didn’t care, if you really weren’t biased, you wouldn’t refer to the Tasers we’re discussing with a loaded term like “fetish weapon.”
    But if you want to lie to yourself so you can feel like an impartial voice, knock yourself out.

  • The_Sharkey

    42 people per year in the entire USA doesn’t sound like much to me, especially when you consider that we have a recent local example of someone dropping dead just from being physically restrained by Police officers for a few minutes so they could be placed in Police custody.

    There are 14,380,370 arrests every year in the United States, so 42 deaths works out to 0.000003% of the total arrests. How many people die from other causes while in Police custody? How many people are Tasered every year?

    More than 2,000 people died during arrests in 2003-05,
    the first Justice Department figures on suspect deaths reveal, and more
    than half of them perished at the hands of law-enforcement officers.
    Officers reported 80% of suspects they killed had threatened or
    assaulted them with a weapon, the Times reports.

    Overall, deaths occurred in fewer than one ten-thousandth of 1 percent of 40
    million arrests. Drugs accounted for 13% of the deaths, followed by
    suicide, accidents, and natural injuries. The number of deaths rose 13%
    over the 3 years of the study, driven mostly by a 63% growth in
    suicides. Three hundred eighty officers died during arrests.

    http://usatoday30.usatoday.com/news/nation/2007-10-11-custody_N.htm

  • Truth Sayer

    I read the City Data sight, and saw that their information comes from media reported crimes. Hardly a reputable source, As, even they provided a disclaimer regarding the accuracy. If reliable statical information is unavailable, I revert to the duck principle: “If it looks like a duck, swims like a duck, and quacks like a duck, then it probably is a duck.”

  • guest

    >high
    >engaged in a brawl
    source please

  • guest

    HEY TASER LOVERS what about this scenario:

    7 year old kid with ADD throws tantrum in the principals office.
    Principal calls cops
    Cops tase kid

    Also this scenario actually happened.
    Before you make up your mind about tasers, check out YouTube for some actual tasings.

  • guest

    Tased kid v.s. dead cop? There’s a difficult choice there?

  • Che Joubert

    If you read the comments that follow this post you’ll see that most of it will be generated by a few critics who claim Berkeley people are too far to the left, and therefore have the temerity and gall to think through situations carefully, which according to these critics is weak and dangerous.

    To me these critics are fake contributors who have no stake in the welfare of Berkeley, but just want to create havoc. These fakes are never concerned with safety or facts. They blather at the others and accuse them of things. They rabble-rouse their way through the discussion with no serious thoughts about anything. ‘The_Sharkey’ is one of these people – with a snide tone on almost every blog he’s on. ‘Truth Sayer’ is too – ‘criminals are scaring people into submission.’ ‘Woolsey’ steps in with some more sarcasm about how tasers etc are ‘too harmful to the predator class’.

    The truth is – these rabble rousers, fear mongers, and sarcastic haters do no good. They love talking about criminals with cold hearted contempt, but if you’ll notice, they display the same cold hearted contempt toward anyone who disagrees with them, even mildly. If they could get their way they’d blow Berkeley off the map alleging that anyone who uses reason is a useless sod who shouldn’t exist.

  • guest

    Heh. Gee, ya’ think?

  • EBGuy

    Meanwhile across the Bay…
    San Francisco Police Chief Greg Suhr withdrew his proposal Wednesday night to arm some officers with
    electric stun guns, saying limitations on the pilot program suggested by
    the public would have been more harmful than helpful.

    http://www.sfgate.com/crime/article/Police-Chief-Greg-Suhr-drops-stun-gun-plan-4425780.php

  • surveyee

    I just have to say, I received BPD’s “survey” and took it. It read less like a neutral survey and more like an advertisement for Tasers. I would call it a marketing tactic and if they have presented it as something neutral then people should ask for the survey questions.

    I’m actually fairly neutral or even pro-taser on the subject, but I was offended by receiving something that was clearly spin.

  • The_Sharkey

    Unfounded criticisms followed by personal attacks, written 5 days after the article was posted so that most people wouldn’t notice?

    Here’s a wild idea – if you disagree with someone how about you attack the specific position you disagree with rather than resorting to lame attacks on individuals you don’t like?

    Try it sometime. You might like it!

  • guest2

    Sharky, I’m not biased, in the sense that I don’t have a position on whether or not the police should have tasers. I am biased in the sense that I don’t like Right wing fear mongering. And, yes, I think many peoples attachment to particular hardware (drones, tasters, etc..) does amount to a fetish. My main point, that Berkeley is hardly “under siege”, is something that you apparently didn’t understand.

  • guest2

    Wow, Sharky. What a tiresome hypocrite you are. You spend half your time patronizingly calling out other people for name calling, and the other half tossing out phrases like “anti-Police bigot”. Here is some advice from a wise sage:

    “Here’s a wild idea – if you disagree with someone how about you attack the specific position you disagree with rather than resorting to lame attacks on individuals you don’t like?” Now what was his name?

  • frank

    these are tools of torture,u want to use a non-lethal.? get a big pepperspay gun..u know like the 1’s they use in state prison..its just to much fun to shock some1 half to death…all in a days work huh officer.? say NO to tazers..tTHEY are EVIL..

  • The_Sharkey

    Toxicology testing of Oscar Grant’s blood revealed the presence of
    alcohol 0.02 grams% and the presence of the drug Fentanyl. (Discovery p.
    690) Fentanyl is described as a highly addictive, strong narcotic pain
    reliever.

    At approximately 2:00 a.m. PST, BART Police responded to reports that up to 12 people were involved in a fight on an incoming train from the West Oakland BART Station and the participants were “hammered and stoned.”[3][4][21]

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/BART_Police_shooting_of_Oscar_Grant

  • guest

    I am a woman, and I walk my Berkeley neighborhood at night, and I live in the flats. Stuff gets stolen. But it’s stuff. I say give the cops tasers, but have them give up their guns. Cops also need mental health training and should be taught NOT to resort to violence as the first alternative.