ACLU Urges San Francisco Police Commission to Reject Taser Proposal

Statement of Kelli M. Evans, Associate Director at ACLU of Northern California

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ACLU of Northern CA

Good evening. My name is Kelli Evans and I am the new Associate Director of the ACLU of Northern California. I am also a civil rights attorney and have spent a number of years working on police accountability and integrity issues across the country. I want to thank Commissioner DeJesus for inviting me here to speak tonight.

Last week I sent Lieutenant Reilly a memorandum prepared by my office for inclusion in tonight's board packet. I do not have time in my brief remarks this evening to cover all of the areas discussed in the memo so I encourage you to take a look at it. It sets forth fairly detailed guidelines and limitations that the ACLU believes must be incorporated into any discussion about conducted energy devices (also known as CEDs or Tasers).

In the few minutes I have tonight, I want to make clear what the ACLU of Northern California's position is on CEDs and urge the commission to reject the police department's proposal to allow use of these devices at this time.

First, CEDs, while less lethal than firearms, constitute a significant level of force. They are still a relatively new technology and the science about their effects continues to evolve. Too often they are viewed by police officers, departments, and the public as harmless, non-lethal devices that simply temporarily incapacitate individuals with little or no risk of harm. This is false. When used as intended, CEDs cause excruciating pain each and every time they are used. They also pose a risk of serious injuries or death. While such injuries and deaths are rare, their impact on individuals, families, communities, and the involved officers cannot be understated.

This is why it is critical that police officers and departments fully understand the potential risks associated with the deployment of CEDs prior to adding this weapon to their arsenals.

So what does this mean? It means that before deciding whether to implement CEDs, departments should have a real conversation with a broad range of community stakeholders, including communities of color, civil rights and mental health advocacy groups, school officials and parents, medical professionals, public officials, and other interested groups and individuals.

In terms of consulting with mental health professionals, we believe that rather than asking this commission for another weapon to add to its arsenal that the San Francisco Police Department (SFPD) should be in front of this commission with a proposal to implement best practices for identifying and effectively responding to incidents involving mental health crises. For example, the creation of crisis intervention teams (CITs) made up of specially trained officers and mental health workers to respond to calls involving mentally ill individuals. Such teams have a proven track record of minimizing the need to resort to any force, which results in safer outcomes for officers and civilians. We believe that SFPD should work with mental health advocates to implement best practices in this area before or in conjunction with any plan to implement CEDs.

If SFPD decides to deploy CEDs, we strongly believe that it should do so only on a trial basis using a pilot project with a limited number of officers and for a limited period of time. This would allow the department and commission to evaluate each deployment closely, speak with involved officers, subjects, and the community and make a decision based upon actual SFPD use of the weapon. Participating officers in any pilot project should be ones who have strong positive relationships with the community and a demonstrated history of good judgment and judicious use of force. Data from any pilot project should be made available to the community and should be carefully assessed to determine whether going forward with broader deployment makes sense and, if so, whether any training or policy changes should be made.

If, at any point, CEDs are authorized for use, they should be limited to situations involving an imminent threat of serious physical harm to an officer, the subject, or third party. CEDs should never be used on restrained individuals, passive resisters, or even active resisters when there is not otherwise an imminent risk of serious physical harm.

If, at any point, CEDs are authorized, they must come with stringent training and strict limitations on their use, including strong oversight and accountability mechanisms. These processes should be agreed upon and established before Tasers are approved for use.

In terms of the motion that is before the commission tonight, we believe that it is putting the cart before the horse. A real community dialogue should occur and improvements should be made in the department's response to calls involving mentally ill individuals prior to adopting CEDs.

Kelli M. Evans recently joined the leadership of the ACLU of Northern California as Associate Director. Evans is also a civil rights attorney with extensive nationwide experience on police accountability and integrity.

Learn more:

ACLU of Northern California Memorandum to San Francisco Police Commission

San Francisco Chronicle Article, 3/4/10, "S.F. Police Commission rejects Tasers"

San Francisco Chronicle Article, 3/5/10, "Gascón gives up on arming officers with Tasers"

San Francisco Chronicle Op-Ed, 3/16/10 "SFPD needs to explain how it would use Tasers"

ACLU of Northern California Report: Stun Gun Fallacy

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