In the wake of an attack on a police officer last week in West Berkeley, the Berkeley Police Association is once again calling on the city to provide its officers with tasers.
The association — a labor organization representing more than 150 officers, sergeants and command staff — has advocated police taser use with various proposals and movements in recent years. Now, it hopes to receive a concrete answer on the issue from Berkeley City Council.
On April 7, a police officer responded to reports that a man was attempting to light something on fire at Aquatic Park. Police said the subject refused to cooperate with the officer, tried to steal his gun several times and became physically resistant, punching and kicking him and leaving him unconscious for a short period of time. Police have said that the man had a history of mental health issues and that the officer was trained to deal with mental health crises.
Throughout the years, the association has attempted to bring the issue of taser use to light with letters to Berkeley City Council and the city’s Police Review Commission as well as through public-education campaigns and community surveys.
In May, results from a survey administered by the association showed almost 80 percent of surveyed participants preferred taser use over both physical force and gun use. Eighty-three percent indicated they supported further review of taser use by Berkeley police.
Berkeley has one of three Bay Area law enforcement agencies that neither provides nor is considering providing tasers to their officers.
Chris Stines, the association’s president, believes a carefully crafted policy combined with thorough training of officers will ensure tasers are used only when necessary.
“The Berkeley Police Department has a very solid record of their equipment usage,” Stines said, pointing out that pepper spray was used only three times last year.
Stines described the various mechanisms in place that enforce police accountability in taser use. The modern taser comes with a camera that automatically activates when the safety is taken off. In addition, when an officer deploys a taser, confetti is released to identify the specific taser used and thus which officer used it.
Andrea Prichett, co-founder of Berkeley Copwatch, a volunteer organization that monitors police action, voiced concerns that BPD might prioritize taser use over responding to mental health crises.
“They just want more equipment,” Prichett said. “What they don’t want to do is engage meaningfully with the people of Berkeley.”
Councilmember Gordon Wozniak believes the City Council should take the proposed tasers “very seriously” to protect officers who “put their bodies in harm.”
If the City Council decides to consider the association’s request, it can either vote right away or consult the Police Review Commission for investigative work and recommendations.