A new survey has been sent out to Berkeley residents asking for their opinions about Berkeley police officers potentially carrying tasers.
The Berkeley Police Association, a labor organization serving member officers, sergeants and command staff, sent out the survey in an email on March 27. Chris Stines, president of the Berkeley Police Association, called the survey a “preliminary step” toward starting a discussion on Berkeley Police Department taser use.
“Taser use in the city has not been seriously explored for many years,” Stines said. “We are very interested in the opinions of the community we serve.”
Berkeley police officers are some of the only officers in the Bay Area who are not equipped with tasers, according to Councilmember Gordon Wozniak, a supporter of the adoption of tasers.
“The controversial political climate in Berkeley has kept the UCPD and BPD from using tasers,” said UCPD Lt. Marc DeCoulode.
Many police departments, including UC police departments such as those in UCLA and UC Davis, have chosen to use tasers as an alternative to forces such as gunfire, according to DeCoulode.
Wozniak believes that tasers can be useful tools that should be available to Berkeley officers. Wozniak added that, as with firearms, there should be strict guidelines on their use. Support, however, is not unanimous on the council.
Councilmember Max Anderson voiced opposition to the use of tasers in Berkeley, citing the dangers of using them on people with medical conditions.
Andrea Prichett, a co-founder of Berkeley Copwatch, a volunteer group that monitors police, said that she believes tasers are the equivalent of lethal force and emphasized the risks that their use may pose that could result in death.
DeCoulode acknowledged the risk of using tasers but affirmed their usefulness to police officers, saying that they reduce physical confrontations and give officers another option besides the use of deadly force to subdue suspects.
“There are cases in which people have died from taser use, but there are also people who died after being arrested and put in a certain position,” DeCoulode said. “The important thing is appropriate application.”
Additionally, Sgt. J.D. Nelson of the Alameda County Sheriff’s Office, which currently uses tasers, said the devices are an effective tool in his department because lethal force can be avoided.
The Berkeley Police Association will release the results of the survey in the next few weeks along with its subsequent course of action, Stines added. The City Council, however, will have the final say on this matter, according to Wozniak.