The City Council agenda report includes no technical information regarding the tasers themselves, such as specifications that would indicate if they are more or less powerful, or equivalent in strength, to the tasers they will be replacing. Additionally, there is no planned discussion of SCPD's use of force policy, and no statistics have been shared with Council regarding the frequency with which Santa Cruz Police Officers have used their Tasers.
According to the agenda report, "Currently, all Santa Cruz Police Officers, Community Service Officers and Rangers are equipped with Tasers while on duty." SCPD claims most of the equipment, "is reaching the end of useful life."
In 2014, activists in Santa Cruz requested information about when and where Santa Cruz Police Officers, "drew their guns, shot their guns, used their tasers, initiated choke holds, used their clubs or pepper-sprayed," but the request was denied.
Changes in law enforcement policies often come after someone has been killed by an officer, and usually at the local level.
Chinedu Okobi was killed in October of 2018 when Deputies with the San Mateo Sheriff's Office used a Taser on him. Okobi was first contacted by sheriff’s deputies for jaywalking in Millbrae. The Deputies' attempts to take him into custody were violent. In addition to using a Taser, they also used pepper spray and batons.
Okobi’s death was one of three deaths caused by Tasers in San Mateo County that year, and Okobi's family called for an end to their use in the county.
In 2019, San Mateo Sheriffs have said they are in the process of updating their use of force policy. Okobi's sister, Ebele Okobi made the following statement in response:
It took three dead mother’s sons, but San Mateo County’s Sheriff has announced they are revising their use of force policies. This is bittersweet news. The new rules limit the use of tasers to people who are “armed with a weapon other than a firearm, causing immediate physical injury, or violently resisting arrest” and forbid officers from tasing citizens more than 3 times. An exception to this is allowed for “exceptional circumstances”, which are undefined and remain, apparently, up to the discretion of officers.
The rules also require patrol cars to carry defibrillators and mandate implicit bias training and training on de-escalation techniques for mental health crises.
There is a great deal to criticize in this announcement. Most worryingly, the drafting pen remains firmly in the hands of a force that has consistently demonstrated callous disregard for human life, as opposed to the collaborative and multi-stakeholder process followed in San Francisco County. Further, the County Sheriff has not released the full text of the proposed revisions, and this seems yet another attempt to evade accountability.
The voices of all of those in the community who rose up to demand accountability are being heard. I am so proud of all of you who wrote and called and demonstrated and testified. Solidarity truly is power. My brother’s last words, as he was being tortured to death, were “Somebody please help me.” While we couldn’t save Chinedu, we absolutely can prevent what happened to him from happening again.
Tyranny ends where accountability begins.
A luta continua; vitória é certa!!
Groups across the country have called on police to limit their use of Tasers for quite some time. Citing an increasing number of in-custody deaths associated with the use of "electroshock weapons", the American Civil Liberties Union Foundation of Colorado in 2004 called on Denver Police to change the department's use-of-force policy and restrict officers' use of Tasers to situations that, "present a true threat to human life or safety".
"Tasers are often promoted to the public on the ground that they can save lives in situations where police would otherwise use deadly force," said Mark Silverstein, ACLU Legal Director, in a letter sent to Denver's Chief of Police at the time. "There is no question that tasers are less lethal than a revolver. But the public is much less aware that police departments around the country, including the Denver Police Department, are authorizing officers to use tasers in situations where no one would claim that lethal force is even arguably justified."