San Francisco – The ACLU of Northern California and Amnesty International USA will urge the San Francisco Police Commission at its meeting tonight to prioritize implementation of a new crisis intervention program instead of acquiring Tasers. Both groups point to the Commission's recent adoption of the "Memphis Model" of crisis intervention training for the police force as a crucial step that should be fully implemented before adding new weapons.
The SFPD renewed its request for Tasers following two officer-involved shootings in January of mentally ill individuals. The ACLU of Northern California and Amnesty International note the dangers of considering Tasers a panacea for dealing with mentally ill suspects.
"People with mental health issues are among the most likely to be subjected to Tasers, and are potentially at greater risk of being injured by them," said Rini Chakraborty, Western Regional Director for Amnesty International USA. "The SFPD should focus on giving its officers the best training to deescalate situations with mentally ill San Franciscans."
The Memphis Model, which originated in the Memphis Police Department in 1988, is a comprehensive approach to interacting with community members with mental health issues. The approach has received nationwide acclaim for its success in training officers and dispatchers, and developing sound protocol. Positive outcomes include fewer officer injuries as well as less need for use of force. Additionally, Memphis police have achieved these outcomes without the use of Tasers. In February, the San Francisco Police Commission voted unanimously to adopt the Memphis Model here, a move the ACLU of Northern California and Amnesty International USA applaud.
"The SFPD should give the Memphis Model a chance before moving on to Tasers," said Allen Hopper, Police Practices Policy Director at the ACLU of Northern California. "The idea that Tasers are harmless is false. They can cause serious and fatal injuries."
Tasers are controversial devices and a relatively new technology. The science about their effects continues to evolve. They potentially pose even greater risks when used on people with mental or physical health problems. The devices can be especially lethal for people taking medications or who are under the influence of drugs and alcohol – the very people who are most likely to have a Taser used on them.