Force Option Decision Based on Politics

San Francisco Police Commission ignores  data during Taser debate.    

In a previous post I discussed the lengths the San Francisco Police Department had gone to  in examining its use of force policy, and to review the data on actual use of lethal force by members of the  Department  over a four-year period.  

The results of that review supported the introduction of a less than lethal force option (Conducted Energy Device) commonly know as Tasers.  The study showed that in five of the  cases where lethal force was used between 2004 and 2009, Tasers would have been a viable option.  In other words,  lives could have been saved.  A motion to introduce Tasers was recently debated by the San Francisco Police Commission and rejected.     

Reading between the lines one could conclude that the rejection of the motion was not really about Tasers.  Rather it seems to be about the power struggle between a new Chief of Police and the Commission.  George Gascon was brought in to implement change and he is trying to do that.  Some members of the Commission, however, see him as a threat to their traditional power base.  

The members of the Commission who voted against the Taser proposal could be accused of putting their own agenda ahead of public safety.  Yes there are dangers inherent in Taser use but what is the alternative?  I know if I were to be on the receiving end and were given the option of the Taser or the Glock, the decision would be quick and easy.  The choice is between the very slight possibility of serious injury and almost certain death.  

So why did the Commission vote the way they did?  I recently did a presentation at the University of Winnipeg on the Economic Model of Crime and one of the things discussed was the decision-making process that led to Council approval of the helicopter in Winnipeg.  I said at the time that politics trumps economics, every time.  In San Francisco we have a case where politics trumps data, evidence, and common sense.  This can happen anywhere but only when we let it.   

Politicians are our elected representatives and if they are acting out their fantasies or serving their own personal interests as opposed to serving the public will, election time serves as a good opportunity for the electorate to respond.