ACLU Urges San Francisco Police Commission to Exercise Caution in Use of Tasers

September 21, 2004 12:00 am

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ACLU Report Show 71 Deaths Following Stun-Gun Use

SAN FRANCISCO – Only days after the death of a Vallejo man who was shot with a taser, the American Civil Liberties Union of Northern California today urged the San Francisco Police Commission to only authorize use of tasers in cases where there is an imminent threat to human life. In a letter sent to the commissioners, the ACLU expressed concern about the reported cases of deaths following use of tasers, which are weapons that can shoot up to 50,000 volts of electricity through a person’s body causing temporary paralysis.

“Over the past several months, there has been an increasing number of deaths associated with taser use and, at the same time, research sponsored by Taser International has been called into question,” said Mark Schlosberg, Police Practices Policy Director of the ACLU of Northern California. “Tasers are certainly a welcome alternative to a gun, however, given the uncertainties about the effects of tasers — particularly on individuals under the influence of drugs or with preexisting heart conditions – police departments should exercise caution and only authorize the use of tasers under limited circumstances.”

According to the ACLU, there have been 71 reported cases of deaths following taser use since 1999 and the numbers are rapidly increasing as more police departments authorize use of the weapon. In August alone, 10 people in the United States and Canada died following taser use; and last Thursday, a Vallejo man died after being shocked with a taser gun.

The ACLU’s letter comes in advance of a September 22nd meeting at which representatives from Taser International, the weapon’s manufacturer, will demonstrate the use of the stun guns before the Police Commission. The commission members are currently debating whether San Francisco police should adopt the weapons as part of their arsenal.

The letter also outlines a series of recommendations for the commission to enact if they decide to adopt tasers, including the following:

  • Only authorize taser use in cases where deadly force would otherwise be authorized or where there is an imminent threat to human life.
  • Adopt strict reporting requirements and accountability measures that require officers to report each time a taser is used.
  • Each police report should include the reason the weapon was used, the number of times electric shocks were fired at a person, the duration the weapon was held down, the race of the individual the weapon was used on, the name of the officer, whether there was any injury, and the extent of medical attention required.
  • The Office of Citizen Complaints and the Risk Management Office should conduct quarterly reviews on how tasers are being used, as well as the effectiveness of the weapon.

The recommendations are similar to police policies followed in the United Kingdom, which, following a comprehensive review of the medical literature related to taser use, authorized the use of the weapons only as a less lethal alternative for use in situations where firearms would otherwise be authorized.

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