San Francisco Police review police shootings and use of force policy.
George Gascon took over as the Chief of the San Francisco Police Department in July of 2009. Early on in his tenure he realized that there might be a problem with the Department’s use of force policy. San Francisco is one of the few major American police agencies that does not use conducted energy devices (Tasers). This creates a gap in terms of the use of force options available to San Francisco Police officers – a gap that Gascon perhaps thought might be resulting in the overuse of the deadly force option.
Instead of simply relying on intuition and making a unilateral move to introduce conducted energy devices to fill the apparent gap he ordered that the issue be studied.
The study undertaken by Assistant Chief Morris Tabak* used an evidence based approach to study the issue. Tabak reviewed a total of 15 files that involved the use of deadly force by San Francisco police officers between 2005 and 2009.
File data revealed that police actions resulted in the death of the suspect in 8 of the 15 cases; the other 7 cases resulted in serious injury but the suspects survived. Tabak concluded that the existing use of force policy (which did not include the use of conducted energy devices) was complied with in all 15 cases. Under the existing policy the use of deadly force was justified as no less lethal option existed.
Most, if not all, use of force policies do not consider the use of less than lethal force as an option in situations where the suspect is armed with a gun. Seven of the 15 cases in question involved suspects armed with guns.
The review centered on the remaining 8 cases that involved suspects not in possession of firearms. Based on information in the case files it was concluded that in 5 of the remaining 8 cases the use of less than lethal force such as a conducted energy device would have been a viable option without endangering the lives of police officers. The study in essence superimposed a policy template that included a less than lethal force option over 5 real life scenarios to determine how the police response in those 5 cases would have been affected had such an option existed.
The study produced evidence (data) that adds clarity to the issue and can be used by decision makers to debate and decide the issue on its merits. This is an example of how evidence can be used to diminish arbitrariness in the decision-making process.
Based on the findings, Chief Gascon will be recommending that the use of force policy be amended to include a less than lethal option and that officers be issued with conducted energy devices. The San Francisco Police Commission will have at its disposal research based evidence when this issue is debated and decided later this month.
* The 185 page report written by Assistant Chief Morris Tabak is available under the heading –Officer Involved Shootings- A five Year Study at: