San Francisco police officers must tell supervisors when they point guns at suspects under a new policy implemented by the police chief.
Chief Greg Suhr said pointing a service weapon at someone amounts to a use of force that officers must justify, the San Francisco Chronicle reported Wednesday.
The chief announced the change amid unrest over the killing of 26-year-old Mario Woods by police. Five officers have been placed on leave after the Dec. 2 shooting.
Meanwhile, the debate about arming police officers with tasers and stun guns is heating up.
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"I think if tasers were available at the officer-involved shooting, there could have been a completely different outcome," said Martin Halloran who leads the San Francisco Police Officers Association.
The union, he said, is working with the Mayor's Office, the Office of the Chief of Police and members of the Police Commission on a pilot program that could potentially equip officers with tasers.
But Supervisor David Campos believes the issue at hand is complicated.
"I think it's too simplistic to say everything that is going on with the SFPD will be resolved by having tasers," he stressed.
Police say Woods was suspected of a stabbing and refused commands to drop a knife. Critics and lawyers representing Woods' mother say police didn't have to fire their weapons.
Police, however, say they tried to use bean bag rounds and pepper spray unsuccessfully before shooting Woods, prompting the San Francisco Labor Council to enter the fray.
"We believe we want a full investigation to see what is happening," said Tim Paulson, the council's executive director. "This is not accusatory. We just have enough people that are disturbed by what happened and I don’t think anybody is above the law."
Meanwhile, Halloran says the new policy, which will govern use of force incidents, appears to reflect a change in working conditions and should be put on hold until it can be explained further.
Some law enforcement experts and department watchdogs support the change, saying most police departments in the country require a formal explanation when police draw and point a weapon.
Tony Ribera, a former San Francisco police chief and director of the International Institute of Law Enforcement Leadership at the University of San Francisco, supports the policy.
Ribera said he empathizes with patrol officers who will have to fill out more paperwork because of the change, but their explanation will help protect them and their departments from lawsuits.