The Coalition For a Taser Free Berkeley is hosting a meeting on Thursday night to discuss whether the city's police force should carry Tasers, and how police officers would be held accountable if they begin using the stun guns.
The controversy has repeated itself throughout the country, with police officers usually arguing having the ability to stun a suspect saves them from getting hurt if there is a physical altercation and is a nonlethal means to achieve just that. Taser International says it has sold at least 720,000 Taser weapons around the world and supplies weapons to 16,000 law enforcement agencies, including several in the Bay Area. The company even states the weapons have saved more than 130,000 lives.
But critics have argued that police can can too stun-gun happy and note that some people have died after being Tased. According to Amnesty International’s 2013 annual report, 540 people have died since 2001 “after being struck by police Tasers.” The organization says Tasers were “listed as a cause or contributory factor in more than 60 of those deaths.” Last year, in the wake of one of those deaths, the ACLU has also called for new legislation to regulate the use of Tasers by law enforcement.
The Berkeley City Council voted 6-3 in May to have the city study the use of the electric stun guns.
Berkeleyside reported that many police officers testified before the council that they want to carry Tasers, which they say would make officers and those who come into contact with them safer, and also save the city money in the long run. Officers have said data show that departments with Tasers have seen fewer “use of force” complaints, fewer injuries to officers and suspects, and reduced costs associated with on-the-job injuries.
But other community members countered that police have enough weapons, that Berkeley doesn’t have enough crime to justify buying the Tasers, and that there are too many risks associated with Taser shocks, Berkeleyside reported.
The Berkeley Police Department hired a consultant in 2011 to investigate the potential costs and benefits tied to Taser use, but the report was never publicly distributed or shared with council members, Berkeleyside reported.
According to the report, which was completed as part of a master’s degree in public policy by a then-UC Berkeley student and former UC Berkeley police officer, the city could save millions of dollars and, potentially, save lives if the city made the investment in Tasers. The Berkeley Police Department paid author James Baird $6,500 to help cover his expenses while he worked on the project.
Berkeleyside published the document in an exclusive report in April after obtaining it through a Public Records Act request.
The city has now asked consultants for “an evaluation of the history, potential benefits, impacts and possible unintended consequences of allowing Berkeley police to carry and use Tasers, including an analysis of ‘best practices’ and protocols in other jurisdictions and changes in technologies. This analysis will inform a decision about a possible pilot program.”
The city plans to complete the selection process by Sept. 15 and award the contract the next day. Council approval is not required because the contract is expected to cost less than $50,000.
IF YOU'RE INTERESTED: The meeting will take place Thursday, , at 7 p.m. at 1939 Addison St. at the East Bay Media Center.