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Sgts Emily Murphy (left) and Chris Stines present the survey results at a press conference on Wed. morning. Photo: Lance Knobel

The Berkeley Police Association (BPA) today released the results of an email survey which it says show residents supporting the investigation of the use of Tasers in Berkeley.

“We want Tasers now,” said Sgt. Emily Murphy, a board member of the BPA, which represents 168 Berkeley officers. “Tasers save lives and reduce injuries caused by physical force or firearm use.”

The Berkeley Police Department is one of only eight law enforcement agencies out of 113 in the Bay Area that does not allow Tasers. Five of the others are currently investigating adopting the equipment (including UC Police Department).

The BPA sent “several thousand” Berkeley residents a link to a seven-question email survey on Taser use in late March.  Over 80% of the 598 respondents agreed that Berkeley police “should further investigate the use of Tasers to deter and control violent individuals.” The emails came from a larger list of Berkeley voters that the BPA purchased; many of the emails on that larger list, according to Stines, were inaccurate.

Tasers send an electrical current through someone’s body to temporarily paralyze their muscles
Tasers send an electrical current through someone’s body to temporarily paralyze their muscles

Tasers are electroshock weapons that send an electrical current through someone’s body to temporarily paralyze their muscles. Many police departments use Tasers because they provide another way of subduing suspects other than physical force or gunfire. Taser advocates argue that the non-lethal weapons lead to lower gun use and fewer police officer injuries.

Critics of Tasers argue that the weapons can be lethal and that their use can lead to increased brutality to the mentally ill and disabled. They also believe Tasers are disproportionately used on minorities.

Murphy and Sgt. Chris Stines, president of the BPA, said they would advocate use of Tasers only when officers believe there is a clear risk of violence.

“They would only be used on violent, armed individuals, or on violent individuals who pose a threat to officers or the community,” Stines said.

Over 75% of survey respondents answered that they had never seen or come in contact with a Taser.

The survey then posed a question about Taser use: “Police officers are frequently coming in contact with violent individuals who refuse to respond to rational requests to obey the law, and who oftentimes are carrying knives, guns or other dangerous weapons. In your opinion, which is a more preferable and safe method for police officers to ensure compliance of a potentially dangerous individual?”

Nearly 80% preferred Taser use in response to that question. 14% reponded batons/physical force, and 6% opted for firearm/gun use.

Murphy cited a study by the federal Department of Justice in Miami-Dade county, FL, which showed 90% fewer suspect injuries in 2011 when Taser use was compared to other force options. According to Murphy, Hayward police did an analysis following their several years of Taser use. She said that Hayward’s statistics showed use of force was down 50%, injuries to officers down 90%, and injuries to suspects down 50%. (BPA’s summary sheet on why it supports Tasers can be read here.)

Stines said that the potential cost reductions for Berkeley from lowered worker’s compensation for injured officers could be substantial. According to the BPA, the Houston Police Department has saved $2 million a year in worker’s comp payments since it deployed Tasers in 2003.

Stines said that the survey results had been sent to the city manager, the police chief, the mayor and the City Council. He hoped that it would spur discussion on the deployment of Tasers in Berkeley. The use has been opposed in the past by the Police Review Commission. It has not come up at the City Council.

“Berkeley citizens support our having Tasers because they understand the potential for tasers to save lives and reduce injuries,” Murphy said.  “If we can save one person’s life by deploying a Taser versus a firearm, then Berkeley’s city leaders have a responsibility to at least look into Tasers for our police officers.”

Police union: Should Berkeley have Tasers? [04.02.13]

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Lance Knobel (Berkeleyside co-founder) has been a journalist for nearly 40 years. Much of his career was in business journalism. He was editor-in-chief of both Management Today, the leading business magazine...