City Council to discuss report regarding Tasers, other electronic control weapons

Tracy Lam/Staff

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Berkeley City Council will convene at a special meeting Tuesday to discuss the possibility of implementing electronic control weapons, such as Tasers, in the city police department.

According to city spokesperson Matthai Chakko, the Tuesday meeting is a work session, meaning the issue will be discussed but no decisions will be made and no actions will be taken.

The city engaged the Stanford Criminal Justice Center to evaluate the potential benefits and consequences of arming city police officers with electronic control weapons, such as Tasers. The city’s engagement with the center was a response to a request to grant Tasers to BPD by the Berkeley Police Association, a labor organization representing members of BPD.

The center’s report, published in June, did not make any recommendations for the city and instead leaves the discussion of policy proposals to Berkeley residents and city officials. The center worked on the report pro bono, according to a city document.

The BPA has openly called for the implementation of Tasers in BPD for several years, and its efforts were revived after an officer was attacked by a civilian in 2014.

In addition, BPA conducted a survey in 2013 that found that 80 percent of Berkeley residents prefer Tasers to physical force and gun use. The study also concluded that 83 percent of residents support investigating the use of Tasers to restrain violent individuals.

Out of 113 Bay Area law enforcement agencies, Berkeley’s is one of three that have not used Tasers as of 2013. Instead, Berkeley police officers are equipped with firearms, batons and pepper spray.

The center’s report investigates the health effects of electronic control weapons, the legal framework involved in using the weapons and their effects on public safety.

Andrea Prichett, a founding member of Berkeley Copwatch and the Coalition for a Taser Free Berkeley, said she thought the report was inconclusive.

“Unfortunately, Tasers are meant to be used in nonlethal situations, but they sometimes have lethal outcomes,” Prichett said. “If Berkeley police … want to commit themselves to a policy that says Tasers can only be used at times when a firearm would otherwise be employed, then we could talk about that.”

The Taser issue has been discussed several times by City Council, and it has previously proved to be a divisive subject.

Councilmember Kriss Worthington is among those who voted against conducting a study on the implementation of electronic control weapons in May 2014. He said investing in body cameras should be prioritized over purchasing Tasers or other electronic control weapons.

“It seems to me the body cameras offer a lot more positive benefits than Tasers, and the body cameras don’t have the numerous potential downsides that Tasers do,” Worthington said.

Immediately after the special meeting, City Council will convene for its regular meeting, where it will discuss potentially redesigning a material recovery facility and a cellphone warning ordinance, among other issues.

Contact Maya Eliahou at [email protected].