Palo Alto revamps Taser policy | March 5, 2010 | Palo Alto Weekly | Palo Alto Online |

Palo Alto Weekly

News - March 5, 2010

Palo Alto revamps Taser policy

Police department tightens standards for Taser deployment

by Gennady Sheyner

Palo Alto police officers will no longer be allowed to fire Tasers unless the person they use it against poses an immediate physical threat, police officials told the Weekly this week.

This story contains 675 words.

Stories older than 90 days are available only to subscribing members. Please help sustain quality local journalism by becoming a subscribing member today.

If you are already a subscriber, please log in so you can continue to enjoy unlimited access to stories and archives. Subscriptions start at $5 per month and may be cancelled at any time.

Log in     Subscribe

Staff Writer Gennady Sheyner can be e-mailed at


Like this comment
Posted by PAPD-Critic
a resident of Barron Park
on Mar 5, 2010 at 9:28 am

As a critic of the PAPD let me first state that officer safety should be the primary concern. Secondly, the Tazer is often referred to as a "Tool".

This alleged tool is in fact a weapon which has caused now over 350 deaths in the US and Canada alone.

What is disturbing is the fact that it was a recent 9th circuit court decision which changed the entire landscape of how the Tazer should be used and applied.

I believe Dennis Burns was very much aware of the hazards way before the lightning bolt decision was struck and should have issued changes to there existing policy before hand.

Doing so would have demonstrated sound leadership and "world class" policing strategies.

Like this comment
Posted by Waverley St
a resident of Downtown North
on Mar 5, 2010 at 10:37 am

Any reasonable person would probably realize that 'reasonableness' is a rather weak standard when allowing the use of a potentially lethal weapon by a power-seeking individual.

Like this comment
Posted by mark
a resident of Evergreen Park
on Mar 5, 2010 at 10:52 am

Burns will only do things in a reactionary manner and will never be proactive.

Like this comment
Posted by Alan
a resident of Midtown
on Mar 5, 2010 at 11:03 am

I think that officers need a non lethal "tool" to use in situations where there is violence that does need to be met with deadly force. I would much rather have the officer use the taser than a firearm to subdue a pugnacious drunk, for example, or a disoriented woman waving a vegetable peeler.

On the other hand, I have read of many incidents where officers (not Palo Alto police) have used the taser, which has the potential to be lethal, to remedy a situation of mere uncooperativeness.

I think that our police chief's new policy is exactly what was needed.

Like this comment
Posted by Micheal
a resident of another community
on Mar 5, 2010 at 12:16 pm

As someone who was in law enforcement for a long time, I know there is no easy way to subdue a resistive subject. When you have to use force, there is always the possibility that you may be hurt or killed. I saw the evolution from “Billy Clubs” to Tasers. Each has had their drawbacks. There is no one perfect system to subdue a resistive person. Everything must be view as a potential of an escalation of force and you need to have training and tools to address it. How proficient officers are in the use of their tools is extremely important. Ideally, you do not want to put your hands on a suspect to bring them under control.

Personally, I am not a fan of the Taser and I have always thought of it as one-dimensional. I preferred the 26-inch wooden baton. Not only is it an offensive tool, it is a very effective defensive tool. I know of two officers who received a letter of commendation from the defense attorney who represented a murder suspect that they had disarmed with only one blow to the wrist with a 26-inch wooden baton. Other times, people complained about officers who carried the 26-inch baton as being too brutal looking.

I support Chief Dennis Burns in tightening the protocols for the use of the Taser. I feel that a Taser is the last thing before you need to use your gun. Officers must have all the defensive and offensive tools to subdue resistive subjects. The better they are trained, the less likely there is of injury to either party.

Like this comment
Posted by Propeshia
a resident of East Palo Alto
on Mar 5, 2010 at 2:34 pm

Police have to make slit second decisions in tense, rapidly evolving, and dangerous situations. Those who determine if a police officer made the correct decision do so in the comfort of their offices, in the light of day, absent the stresses the officer felt at the time. Making a collaborative, deliberated decision based on reviewing taser camera footage and reading a report of the incident is not the same as being in that officer's shoes at the time of the incident. I don't believe that 12 taser incidents in two years is concerning given the voluminous number of enforcement contacts police have surely made during that time. Police are obviously not overusing the taser and that is probably a testament to the fact that they have received more and better training in taser use than other police departments.

Historically, people have sometimes died in police custody since there have been police. Other tools that have been blamed for those deaths including the police baton, pepper spray, and the carotid choke hold. The taser was designed to save lives and prevent injury but based on history we know that there most likely will be someone, somewhere that dies after fighting or struggling with police. If that person's heart exploded because they were high on PCP, meth, or cocaine and they fought with police and die, who is to blame? Of course the police will blindly be blamed by some no matter what those officers did or didn't do.

Let face it, police have to deal with situations that most people could never handle properly and safely. Most people don't have the courage to face the kind of threats police are exposed to daily. Police make decisions based on their perceptions at the time and the last thing they want is a career ending wrongful death incident that leaves them penniless or in jail.

Police standards and training standards should be set high, they are set high. Consequently, police are some of the most capable and well trained people in society. Be humble in your judgement of them. You will probably never know what its like to do their job.

Like this comment
Posted by pecuniac
a resident of Midtown
on Mar 5, 2010 at 3:25 pm

Yes, its easy to theorize about the proper use of force if your life revolves around your safe cubicle, your safe car, and your safe locked doors in an upper middle class suburb. But, if an inebriated lout is charging you with any handy cudgel, I think most people would choose something to prevent injury to themselves, something immediate. Romanticize all you want about TaiChi, the Dali Lama, or millenia of Kung Fu masters, most of us are not those and most cops are flesh and blood.

Like this comment
Posted by Robert
a resident of Greater Miranda
on Mar 5, 2010 at 3:27 pm

Given the low use of Tasers in Palo Alto, this is a bit of a non-issue, other than from a policy point-of-view. Giving police officers official notice that inappropriate use of these devices can lead to "disciplinary action" is about all that is changing here.

It would be nice if Burns would publish what would happen if someone were to die from a Taser burst, however. If the officer firing the Taser were found to be in no particular danger, would this case be subject to prosecution? Or is Burns only considering a typical "tap on the wrist".

Like this comment
Posted by Bob
a resident of Downtown North
on Mar 5, 2010 at 11:19 pm

Propeshia - Thank YOU!!!

Like this comment
Posted by Robert
a resident of Greater Miranda
on Mar 8, 2010 at 12:39 pm

> police are some of the most capable and well trained
> people in society.

Ah .. this statement is a bit too vague to be of use to anyone other than a police officer. How does an officer writing traffic tickets become "more capable" that a dentist, or a brain surgeon, or a software engineer, or a pilot, or a sonar operator, or any number of other very complicated professions? Sorry .. but given the parameters of the job .. there is a limit to what is expected of a police officer, and so there is a natural limit to the training provided.

How many people would go to a police officer to ask for advice about what college to send your child, or what major the child should pursue? Or maybe what stocks to invest in, or whether buying a house in a given location will result in a profit or loss? Sorry .. but there is little evidence that police officers are the kinds of people that society looks to for guidance about important personal, or societal, decisions ..

If the claim is that they are "well trained for the job at hand" .. then maybe that's true .. until we find that there is fraud or corruption in a given police department, and none of the officers were "trained" to recognize these failures in their fellow officers and that there is an obligation to turn these "bad actors" to their Internal Affairs department for prosecution.

Rational people agree that the police have a hard job .. but abusing the public with Tasers .. using them more-or-less like cattle prods, isn't endearing the police to anyone.

Like this comment
Posted by ED
a resident of Southgate
on Mar 8, 2010 at 9:39 pm

Robert is scared and weak.

Like this comment
Posted by Jake
a resident of another community
on Mar 10, 2010 at 2:52 am

I'll take being Tased by the police instead of being shot or struck by a baton any day of the week. More people have been killed after being shot or struck by a baton or night stick, than by Tasers.
The police should be using the Taser as a last resort PRIOR to shooting somebody or using their baton. Most people have no damage or injury after being Tased, and many police officers have been Tased themselves in Taser training to demonstrate the affects of the weapon. A Taser is not going to kill or wound and inocent bystander nearby either. I'd also prefer being Tased to having a police dog
rip into me.

Sorry, but further commenting on this topic has been closed.