During a radio appearance this morning, Mayor Ed Lee voiced support for arming SFPD officers with Tasers, stating a position spokesperson Christine Falvey confirmed to the Examiner.
Police Chief Greg Suhr has for years hoped to equip the Department with these less-lethal weapons, and following the SFPD shooting of Mario Woods posited that things "could have ended differently" had officers had them in their arsenal.
Falvey did not elaborate on the Mayor's position, but Lee is sure to add more soon, in no small part because he's been criticized for his tepid response to the killing. He'll also need to be on the defensive. As the Chron quoted ACLU attorney Micaela Davis from a Police Commission Meeting held in the wake of Woods' death, "There were other tactical decisions that could have been done to prevent that shooting. Tools [like Tasers] are only a piece of it, and there is a whole host of training that the department needs to undergo in order to make the department more accountable to the community it polices."
Despite Chief Suhr's position, many more have questioned whether any weapon was necessary to restrain Woods: Police maintain he was armed with a kitchen knife, but Woods is visibly shambling and weak as he faces five officers in new enhanced video of his death, released in conjunction with a Civil Rights lawsuit.
Jennifer Friedenbach, Executive Director of the Coalition on Homelessness, is already digging in against Tasers, questioning their safety and efficacy. She argues that police with Tasers don't use their firearms any less — in fact, according to one study, shooting deaths more than doubled in the first year after Tasers were adopted.
Secondly, Friendebach notes a study undertaken by doctors at UCSF that showed sudden deaths in police custody skyrocketed in the year after Tasers were adopted, moving up 644% compared to a baseline of the five years preceding taser adoption.
Civil Rights attorney John Burris told SFist what he thinks caused Woods' death: "The culture of violence within the department, the culture of not being held accountable, the culture of using excessive force and not valuing the lives of African Americans [that] allows [officers] the ability to shoot first."
Tasers are weapons equally capable of saving and taking lives. Much of the difference, it would seem, depends on the police culture into which they're introduced.