Police call for Tasers after attempted killing of officer

The Berkeley Police Association, the union for the rank and file, has been making the case for officers to have Tasers. Photo: Creative Commons

The Berkeley Police Association has been making the case for officers to have Tasers. Photo: Creative Commons

The president of the Berkeley Police Association is asking city officials to consider the use of Tasers by Berkeley officers after a violent attack on an officer Monday.

The police association, the union for the rank and file, has been asking publicly for Tasers since at least last year. According to association president Sgt. Chris Stines, 95% of California’s law enforcement agencies use Tasers, but Berkeley is not among them.

Last fall, after a man tried to stab himself to death in Berkeley, Stines said officers with Tasers would have been able to resolve that situation with less injury. Since then, Stines said this week, there have been at least four other incidents, including Monday’s attack, in which Tasers would have made a difference.

In Monday’s incident, a Berkeley police officer responded to Aquatic Park after a man was reportedly trying to set some kind of liquid on fire. The officer, who runs the department’s mental health training program, was first to the scene.

He saw the suspect and reported on the radio that he planned to detain him. But, quickly, the situation spun out of control. According to Stines, the man attacked the officer, jumping on top of him and knocking him to the ground.

The man punched the officer in the face repeatedly.

“This guy was landing a lot of direct blows,” said Stines. “He was not messing around or trying to get away. He was trying to kill the officer.”

The officer protected his face with his hands but, at some point, lost consciousness, Stines said. He came to as the man was trying to take items, including his gun, from his tool belt.

Soon afterward, the man decided, inexplicably, to run off. He jumped over a fence and into the lagoon at Aquatic Park, and was taken into custody by responding officers a short time later. The 41-year-old man, identified as both Carlos Alberto Delagarza and Juan Enriguez Ramirez in court papers, has been charged with attempted murder of a peace officer, assault on a peace officer and second-degree robbery, among other crimes. He’s being held without bail.

Stines described Monday’s incident as a “brutal unprovoked attack” that left the officer with “ghastly injuries” to his face.

“It looked like he’d been in a very extended boxing match,” Stines said. “It’s clear that all of his serious injury could have been prevented if he’d had a Taser.”

Stines noted that, despite the officer’s extensive mental health experience — he’s a trained marriage and family therapist who worked for more than 15 years in mental health and social services before joining the Berkeley Police Department — this was not an incident where diffusing the situation verbally was possible. Stines said the officer believes the department needs Tasers, as well as continued development of its mental health training program, to be effective.

“Once someone decides they’re going to kill you, there’s no more talking,” Stines said. “Is this person going to end up dead or is the officer going to end up dead, or is there some kind of intermediary tool to prevent that from happening?”

Stines said having Tasers would benefit officers — by reducing the potential for injuries on the job during physical confrontations — as well as suspects intent on doing violence, who could be brought into compliance more effectively with that tool than with others currently available to Berkeley officers.

He also said the department’s low staffing levels contributed to an unsafe situation for the officer Monday. There was no one available immediately to cover him when he responded to speak with the man at Aquatic Park, and it took time for other officers to arrive.

“We’re feeling the staffing crunch on the street every day,” said Stines. “If you don’t have staffing and you don’t have all the tools of the trade, you end up in very difficult, dangerous situations.”

(The department is currently collecting feedback from the community, through Friday, April 11, about staffing levels and existing department resources. Learn more here.)

Stines said the police association would take the opportunity this week to reach out to council members in writing to reiterate the need for Tasers in Berkeley.

“There have just been too many incidents that city government wants to ignore that have very nearly resulted in somebody’s death,” he said. “We just have to keep pointing them out.”

The officer who was attacked Monday, Jeff Shannonadvocated for the need for Tasers in a 2010 report about the department’s mental health training (CIT) program. Tasers can be particularly crucial for officers responding to people in a mental health crisis, he wrote: “More so than non-CIT officers, they interact with people at their maddest, baddest and saddest. These contacts are inherently dangerous.”

Shannon wrote that “paranoid mentally ill subjects” often carry weapons, and are more likely to ignore officer commands, which can lead to dangerous situations: “The result is a mental health consumer in crisis who has left the officer with no alternative to deadly force.”

According to Stines, Berkeley is one of just three Bay Area law enforcement agencies — out of 113 — that isn’t already armed with Tasers or considering their use.

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

Berkeley Police Chief Michael Meehan said earlier this week that the department would take another look at its approach to try to avoid the recurrence of a situation like Monday’s attack.

“This was a very serious attack on one of our officers involving a dangerous subject that could easily have resulted in tragedy,” Meehan said via email. “The involved officer showed great courage, tenacity and professionalism in defending himself, and, with the assistance of other officers, getting the suspect into custody. We will be reviewing the incident to determine what tools, tactics and training could minimize the risk of this happening in the future.”

Meehan also told community members at a neighborhood watch meeting Monday night that he thought any tool that could reduce injuries to officers is “worth looking at.”

The city’s Mental Health Commission voted in February to create a three-person subcommittee to look at the possible use of Tasers in Berkeley and develop recommendations about that concept.

It’s not the first time Tasers have come up before a city panel, but it may be the most concrete step that’s been taken. In 2008, the Police Review Commission briefly discussed the topic after a fatal officer-involved shooting in Berkeley, but made no decisions. In 2011, the Police Review Commission considered the creation of a subcommittee to explore Taser use, but the idea was narrowly voted down.

Berkeley city leaders, to date, have been cautious in their remarks about the possibility of Taser use. Last fall, several leaders declined to comment on the subject at all. Most of those who did reply to a request from Berkeleyside said more research would be needed, and an in-depth conversation would need to take place before any action could be considered.

At that time, Gordon Wozniak was the only council member to take a stand: “Berkeley should join the overwhelming majority of Bay Area law enforcement agencies that allow the use of Tasers to deter or control violent individuals, when negotiations have failed.”

Related:
Police arrest man after ‘violent attack’ in West Berkeley (04.08.14)
Berkeley asks public for help to create new police beats (03.27.14)
Vigil, rally mark anniversary of in-custody death (02.12.14)
City leaders weigh in on idea of Tasers in Berkeley (10.03.13)
2 women charged after Berkeley stun gun robberies (09.30.13)
After suicide attempt, police union says Tasers needed (09.25.13)
Berkeley police union makes the case for Tasers (05.29.13)
Police union: Should Berkeley have Tasers? (04.02.13)

Berkeleyside’s Uncharted: The Berkeley Festival of Ideas is two days of provocative thinking, inspiring speakers, workshops, and a big party — all in downtown Berkeley in October. Read all about it, be part of it. Register on the Uncharted website.

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  • guest

    They’ll probably just tase you and take it.
    Or think it’s a gun and kill you. Be careful out there with that attitude.

  • Andrew D

    I complete agree that the use of tasers would lower the bar from where it would be for a gun, but I’m not convinced it necessarily would lower all the way to “not yet threatening” it seems to me the argument goes as follows:

    Officers, just like any other sane human being, are loathe to use deadly force, even if they are the officially sanctioned community members given the discretion to determine if deadly force is called for in a violent situation. I am not a gun expert by any means, but my understanding is that the basic rule of thumb is that if you point that thing at someone, you only do so if you intend to use it, and as has been pointed out, if you fire your weapon, you do so to kill. All of the above would tend to make an officer, especially one with the temperament and experience of the one involved in the incident in question (at least by the characterization in this article) only draw their weapon when they are damn sure they need it. I would assume that the situation escalated very quickly and unexpectedly and that is how the perpetrator was able to overpower the officer.

    Now, on the other hand, if an officer had a non-lethal tool on his or her belt that was useful at a distance, you could indeed imagine them unholstering it much earlier in a potentially volatile situation because they would be much much less severe consequences should they discharge it after having misread the situation. In other words, if the officer was not risking taking a life when he wasn’t sure the situation merited it yet, he very well may have approached the subject with the taser drawn, rather than empty handed as apparently happened. Then, in a case that the situation quickly escalated the officer might be able to respond before they were overpowered.

    Of course, the worry that officers would use their tasers out of convenience rather than necessity, and indeed the subtleties of that distinction is the major worry of most opponents of their use. However, I for one feel like we already trust officers to make these exact sorts of decisions with all the other tools at their disposal to apprehend suspected criminals, and have systems in place (at least theoretically) to hold them accountable if they abuse that trust. Hell, they can already shoot you, or punch you in the face, or choke you into unconsciousness with their night sticks, or crumple you to the pavement with a “compliance hold”. Are tasers really some different class of instrument that we can’t trust them with, when we have already granted them the list above? Detailed information on use guidance is certainly something that should be publicly available and open for discussion, but I would argue that we already grant cops the overarching discretion to determine when force is necessary (one they have many times abused) and it is the details of how the community ensures they do not abuse that power that is of paramount importance, not a discussion of which tools they can and cannot employ in the endeavor.

  • notnot2

    All the arguments against police having tasers are the same you would use to take guns away from the police and the same that they use to say why the police shouldn’t have dogs. If these poeple could take the guns away from our police they would.

  • notnot2

    It doesnt look like a gun it is one of the close-range zapper ones. Looks more like a cell phone than anything.

  • notnot2

    Messed up priorities if you would rather see someone get shot than get shocked.

  • berkeleyan

    The thing is: tasers arebeing promoted as a non-lethal weapon (for some reason preferable to billy clubs).
    However, we know that in a certain percentage of cases, they ARE lethal.
    My concern is this will lead to death in stuations where that was not the officer’s intent.
    If the officer believes that he is just using a tool to subdue someone, he may be more likeley to use is in. a “gray” sort of situation where he is not at risk, and the (young man with down syndrome? kid skateboarding home?workimg man on his way home after a couple beers?) might end up dead. This should definitely be looked at as a dangerous weapon.

  • retail worker

    I think Tasers would a great for some difficult customers.

  • Don’tTreadOnMe

    So you are on the wrong side of the law, then?
    Criminals with Tasers. Interesting.

  • notnot2

    The municipal code is unconstitutional.

  • Andrew D

    yes, you are of course correct. But it is not entirely clear to me that tasers’ lethal potential is any higher than physical restraint. There are lots of examples of suspects and 5150 holds dying in custody or during arrest when the officers involved did not intend that outcome. We had quite a high profile case just last year here in Berkeley. What is abundantly clear, and one of the major points brought up by officers, is that tasers are inherently safer for officers. If they have determined that someone needs to be restrained/brought into compliance with their direction, if they can do so without a physical confrontation, that is obviously safer to the officer. I think the policy guidance on usage that Mike brought up is an important factor to consider, and also some real data on whether the incidence of death due to tasers is any higher than the presumed alternative (tackling, choking, wristlocking, baton to head bashing). We must be vigilant against abuse of power, but we should also not be blind to real health and safety issues of officers.

  • batardo

    They call it “lethal force” for a reason. No amount of training will accomplish what you are suggesting.

    Try shooting a gun sometime.

  • batardo

    You missed my point by about 180 degrees.

    It’s a false choice, gun vs tazer. Tazers will be used 90% for things you wouldn’t use a gun for.

  • bgal4

    BPD will be happy to have tasers equipped with cameras thus satisfying concern for oversight.

  • no_cattleprods

    Here’s a reasonable ask — BPD can have Tasers after they demonstrate 100% compliance with wearable cameras for all shifts for 6 months. Re-evaluate quarterly, fall below 99% and lose the Tasers.

  • gist

    “less lethal” is the term, not non-lethal. Like soft projectiles in a 12ga shotgun shell (beanbags, rubber pellets, etc.), they probably won’t kill you most of the time, but at close range a hit to the head is probably going to do some damage.

  • gist

    Why stop with a silly bug zapper .. get a CCW .. head on over to Calguns.net if you want the scoop, or google ‘peruta v san diego’

  • guest

    I believe CCW is extremely difficult to get in Alameda county. Berkeley may even have city-specific regulations about it.

  • no_moronic_demands

    How many things that you do every day do you do 100% perfectly 100% of the time?

  • Paul-Kealoha Blake

    First allow me to extend my condolences to Officer Jeff Shannon for his injuries and gratitude for his service to our community. I am particularly grateful that he did not lose control of his weapon while in such close contact. I have met and documented Jeff Shannon’s work on 5150 calls. I am on record as having a great deal of respect for both his CIT skills as well as his efforts in our community. That does not however make Jeff infallible or superhuman, he is a human who can make errors in judgement just as we all can. Having made that point let me now address Both “Completely Serious” and “Yes on Tasers” both of whom shroud themselves in anonymity and attempt to frame the issue of tasers in adversarial language. No where in my statement does it state “Mental Health Commission wants to tell cops what to do” Completely Serious? “Yes on Tasers” Regrading credentials… apparently there is no need for credentials at all in your attempt to dismiss the Berkeley Mental Health Commission with “disbanding” Who specifically are you referring to who will “do just fine using Alameda County services” Tasers as a law enforcement tool deserves community scrutiny and should not be addressed only by the Police Association. This is a community… as Chair of the Berkeley Mental Health Commission, I encourage and support dialogue and scrutiny of an issue that deserves careful research and consideration. I assure you that the Taser Corporation will weigh in heavily here as they have nationally, regarding any negative response to taser technology.

  • http://berkeleyhomes.com/ serkes

    What threshold would you suggest for police carrying handguns?

  • bgal4

    Paul,

    As a long term resident I am tired of the boards and commissions being granted far too much authority over decisions on important matters which affect our lives.

  • Paul-Kealoha Blake

    Tasers as a law enforcement tool deserves community scrutiny particularly in their application to those in mental crisis. I have heard the the Police Association address the issue. This is a community… as Chair of the Berkeley Mental Health Commission, I encourage and support dialogue and scrutiny of an issue that deserves careful research and consideration. Your anonymous opinion is duly noted and heard. I encourage both listening and speaking, thank you for activating half of that equation. I assure you that the Taser Corporation will weigh in heavily here as they have nationally, regarding any negative response to taser technology.

  • Paul-Kealoha Blake

    As a long time resident you must surely be aware that the Commission system in Berkeley is in place specifically to provide citizens a vehicle to address issues and craft recommendations to our City Council, they are not in positions of either power or authority on important matters which affect our lives. I invite you to address the Berkeley Mental Health Commission during Public Comment at regularly scheduled meetings.

  • guest

    Paul-Kealoha Blakehas a place on the useless, obstructionist mental health commission because of the revolting back-scratching favor-trading that goes on in Berkeley politics, not because he has even the tiniest amount of qualifications for such a position.

    For proof, note that his response to your question about qualifications is just a string of personal attacks rather than an explanation of why he thinks he would be qualified for such a position.

  • guest

    How long are you unelected do-nothings on the commission going to keep “studying” and “considering” this topic? BPD and the general public of Berkeley have been clamoring for police tasers for YEARS.

  • guest

    You aren’t helping citizens address anything, you are acting as an obstructionist body and preventing our local law enforcement from having basic tools that the people of Berkeley WANT THEM TO HAVE.

    Your commission should be disbanded and the question of police-issue tasers should be put to a public vote at the next election.

  • bgal4

    and be completely ignored.

  • leilah

    City Council, stop tiptoeing and waffling around this issue and just APPROVE THIS DAMN THING!! The citizens of Berkeley rightly expect our police officers to protect us and maintain order–effectively and without hesitation risk life and limb as part of their job–and yet we ask them to do so optimally with education, stratagems and TALK. Sure, we give them tools of force when absolutely necessary, but under those conditions there should certainly be something between a billy club and a gun … and tasers don’t have nearly the impact nor unintended consequences as do guns. People have to start recognizing that, even while choosing this profession (SOMEbody’s gotta do it), police officers leave home EVERY WORKDAY not knowing whether they’ll return home safely–or at all–simply as part of doing their job. We have to help protect those who help protect us.

  • guest

    Okay so let’s make it 10% compliance. What’s your suggestion?

  • scatforbrains

    What’s your point Ira? Cops carry guns, that’s a given

  • Yes on tasers

    I’ve read your minutes for the last few months. Sounds like a do-nothing commission whose members have little to no mental health credentials, and certainly no credentials on policing techniques. The people you’ve selected to review tasers are in no way representative of Berkeley. You couldn’t even get a single person to attend training on your core issues.

    You’re entitled to 17 people on the commission but more than half of the spots are vacant, and you’re classifying a “home health aid” [sic] as having qualifications in the field! which is preposterous. Assisting people with activities of daily living after a few months of training does not qualify one to set or review MH policy, let alone police procedures.

  • notnot2

    Messed up priorities if you would rather see someone get beaten into submission with a billy club than get shocked.

  • notnot2

    The point is as obvious as your name is insulting – if you had your way police would not be armed at all.

  • bgal4

    Tasers with recording capacity to video every use. Done!

  • guest

    …but they don’t comply with regulations already in place…

  • bgal4

    prove it.

  • Paul-Kealoha Blake

    “We;ve proven that tasers can kill” John Burton… who won a case in Salinas CA against Taser International regarding a Salinas man who died of cardio vascular arrest after being tased buy Police. Why shouldn’t we as a community proceed carefully and with caution regarding tasers? Why should we embrace Taser Internationals PR or… the Berkeley Police Association? Is there a compelling reason to not carefully examinine the arming of our Police with tasers?

  • http://www.caviarcommunism.com/ West Bezerkeley

    Humboldt county outside of city limits where the Sheriff has jurisdiction is the only place in CA where citizens have a real chance of getting a conceal and carry permit. It’s a conversation nonstarter throughout the rest of the state

  • emraguso

    Looks like the council may take up this issue in May. We have the scoop: http://www.berkeleyside.com/2014/04/15/councilmen-time-is-now-to-discuss-tasers-in-berkeley/

  • emraguso