I was going to post this after the first shooting, but I held back. After the shooting in Saratoga, I think this needs to be said. I think it needs to be said for the deputies and for the community. It’s a question that has been asked by the public, but never sufficiently answered.
We have had one, two separate incidents where deputies were put in a situation where they were forced to pull their weapons and defend themselves in an ultimately fatal manner. I am not questioning the justification of those shootings. The deputies did what they had to do and I stand by that.
But the deputies have been deprived of an alternative less-lethal option – Tasers. People have asked why there are no Tasers carried by Sheriff’s deputies. The answers are complicated, well, not really, but multi-faceted would be a better word. It started with a death in the jails many years ago, before the Sheriff was even Sheriff. The Sheriff determined she would not have Tasers after that. But let’s be clear on this point — if you were the loved one of the of the people who were shot over the past weeks, would you not prefer the odds of a less-lethal option like a taser be available? No, there are no guarantees, but generally speaking when Tasers are used properly, the risks are reduced to being a danger primarily to those with heart problems or on drugs. And I know many don’t stop to consider this aspect, but the effect on a law enforcement officer having to take a life is no inconsequential matter on their part and the emotional impact to them and their families are as long-lasting and can be as painful as they are to the families who suffered the loss.
There is a reason I underlined the words “used properly” above. Because that is where we run into the real problems with getting the less-lethal option of Tasers into the hands of deputies. Tasers themselves cost money. Maintenance costs money. Training is significant in that it must be enough to overcome what could be 25 years of muscle memory training to reach for a gun. It’s a perishable skill, so training is required to be repeated over the years. We’ve discussed in the past how the Sheriff views the value-to-expense ratio of training to the office. And then you have that ugly phrase “policy paper.” A policy on escalation of force and appropriate use of tasers must be created and maintained. The Sheriff hates putting policy to paper, it narrows her escape options on what to say and who to blame if something goes wrong. The costs of equipping and training deputies to ensure a BART-like situation did not occur wouldn’t be something to shrug at. But I suspect if virtually every other law enforcement agency in the Bay Area can afford it, surely one of the largest sheriff’s departments in the state could handle the challenge of moving forward with “new” technology.
I think we have all seen the news, both locally and nationally, indicating the increase of violence and of those who may be no more than temporarily mentally incapacitated. There is nothing wrong with giving law enforcement as many options as possible to deal with the situation to make sure everyone makes it to bed at night. There is always the possibility that the outcome of the two instances would have been the same, but the families were never given the option of finding out if it could have been different by a Sheriff’s indifference to modern police tactics that help save lives in very difficult situations on the street that take split second decision-making on the part of her deputies.
As a taxpayer, I would rather the Sheriff stop trying to undermine the budget we give her in some bizarre effort to pretend she’s a cost cutting CEO and spend it to better protect our community. She has a budget because she told us that is what she needs and the community has agreed that is an amount we find acceptable. So provide us with a trained and equipped law enforcement entity that meets that expense.