Jeff Chiu / AP Photo

SF’s top cop wants to arm force with Tasers

Chief Greg Suhr is calling for Tasers, saying the stun guns could prevent shooting deaths of suspects

San Francisco's police chief renewed calls Monday for adding Tasers to his department's arsenal, saying the electrical stun guns could have prevented officers from shooting to death a knife-wielding suspect last week.

Thursday's shooting of 26-year-old Mario Woods in the city's Bayview neighborhood was captured on two video clips, both circulated widely online. One 15-second clip shows five officers firing their weapons as Woods is seen holding his left side, limping down a sidewalk along a wall and appearing to show him approaching an officer with gun drawn who is walking toward Woods.

Chief Greg Suhr said one clip isolated from the 15-second video appears to show Woods raising the hand holding the knife.

The clips fueled anger against police in the predominantly black Bayview neighborhood. Several residents and community leaders called for Suhr's resignation during a three-hour meeting Friday he convened at a church a few blocks from the shooting.

On Monday, Mayor Ed Lee told reporters at City Hall that the police department would implement more training, review its policy on the use of force and start carrying protective shields in patrol cars.

Lee added, according to The San Francisco Chronicle that “lethal force is always the last resort.”

“This country has seen far too many incidents where conflicts between police and young men of color result in the death of a young person,” the Chronicle quoted him as saying. “In San Francisco, we’re not this kind of city. That’s not our values.”

Lee didn't take questions or address the calls for Suhr's dismissal. Suhr appeared at the City Hall press conference with the mayor, police commission President Suzy Loftus and other community leaders.

Suhr said he will also ask the city's police commission to arm officers with Tasers, a weapon meant to shock and briefly incapacitate suspects with an electrical jolt. Suhr withdrew a similar proposal two years ago amid police commission opposition but on Monday, he referred to a stabbing in the London underground where police used Tasers, a popular brand of stun gun, to take the suspect into custody, the Chronicle reported.

Critics of Tasers say the weapon can kill suspects and that police officers sometimes grab and shoot their guns when they meant to use a Taser, as happened in the killing of Oscar Grant in Oakland in 2009, an event that became the basis for the movie "Fruitvale Station." 

Taser International — which began developing the gun 20 years ago — and law enforcement officials regard the controversial device as a lifesaver. Over the past two decades more than 700,000 Tasers have been sold worldwide to consumers, military organizations and 17,000 police forces. The Taser is fired 900 times a day and saves a life every half-hour, according to the company’s website. But police have been accused of abusive use of the weapon.

"Tasers are concerning because they are being used as routine compliance tools despite the potential for loss of life,” said Jared Feuer of Amnesty International USA. “The gap between what is justified in a situation and what is used is concerning, not just to us but to the public.”

Loftus said Monday that she still has "lingering concerns" about Tasers, but she is now open to arming San Francisco police officers with the weapons after opposing their use two years ago. She said the department has implemented more crisis intervention training and made significant changes to its policies and procedures since her original opposition.

Suhr said the five officers who fired their guns have been put on leave with pay, pending the outcome of the department's investigation. The San Francisco district attorney is also investigating. Suhr said the identities of the officers involved will be released by "the end of the week."

Al Jazeera and The Associated Press

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