The Berkeley Police Association released a survey in a press conference Wednesday morning indicating that 83 percent of Berkeley residents support investigating the use of tasers to restrain violent individuals.
The survey, consisting of seven questions regarding the community’s views on tasers, was sent out in March. When presented with an option between tasers or physical force and gun use, more than 80 percent of Berkeley residents surveyed preferred the use of tasers.
The survey results will be presented to Berkeley City Council, the mayor and the police chief as part of an ongoing discussion about Berkeley Police Department’s potential implementation of tasers. Currently, Berkeley is one of only three cities — out of 113 in the Bay Area — with a police force that does not use tasers. The Berkeley Police Association, an organization of police officers, expressed strong support for tasers in its statement.
“We believe that tasers are safe when properly trained, and we believe that tasers can save lives,” said Sgt. Emily Murphy, vice president of the Berkeley Police Association, in a statement.
Included in the Berkeley Police Association’s press release was an op-ed that argued that the use of tasers in place of physical force to restrain Kayla Moore — a transgender Berkeley resident who died in police custody — could have prevented her death. The official cause of Moore’s death cited in the coroner’s report was a drug overdose, but the case was surrounded by controversy following weeks of police silence.
The Berkeley Police Association argued that implementing tasers in Berkeley would reduce deaths, suspect injuries and officer injuries because it would, in part, replace the use of firearms and other police weapons.
“We know that we need this tool as police officers,” Murphy said. “I want a viable option when I’m facing a violent suspect who is armed.”
Not all members of the community, however, are in favor of police taser use.
“The Berkeley Police Department has put forward the notion that tasers are an alternative method to force,” said Andrea Prichett, co-founder of Berkeley Copwatch, an all-volunteer organization that monitors police action. “I think they want tasers so they can use them as an alternative to de-escalation and membership building in the community.”
According to Amnesty International, there were 500 deaths from taser use in the United States from 2001 to 2012.
“When police officers arrive on a scene, they don’t know if somebody has a heart condition or if an individual has some kind of medical problem,” Pritchett said. “I think tasers are a reckless choice of weapon.”
Sergeant Chris Stines, president of the Berkeley Police Association, said the decision to implement tasers is ultimately up to the City Council.
“I think statistics and facts are basically going to be the deciding factor for the city leaders,” Stines said. “(Tasers) would only be used on violent, armed individuals who pose a threat to the community.”