Nationally, San Francisco police have a reputation as lovable, fuzzy pussycats. That's according to the San Francisco Police Officers Association, the city's police union, who have traditionally resisted most any change to the way they do business out on the streets. But following a string of fatal police shootings that cost former police Chief Greg Suhr his job, S.F. cops are finally due for a policy change.
Last night, after a build-up of more than six months, the city's Police Commission finally approved some modest changes to city police's use-of-force policies. Various words in the use-of-force policy were swapped around — there was a debate over whether cops should use “minimal” force or “reasonable” force — and the new policy also forbids police from shooting at moving vehicles and applying a neck restraint called the “carotid artery hold,” according to the San Francisco Examiner.
That all sounds reasonable enough. The compromise earned the praise of Mayor Ed Lee, who put police on notice that use-of-force would change following the Dec. 2 fatal shooting of Mario Woods. But the problem is none of it is final — and it could all blow up in everyone's faces.
Before the use-of-force policy is finalized, it must be reviewed one more time by the city's Department of Human Resources… and the POA. And the POA still has issue with “20 percent” of the policy, meaning the whole thing is potentially at risk, as the Chronicle reports.
Two key disagreements — the “carotid artery restraint,” seen above, and police's ability to shoot at cars.
[jump] The carotid restraint looks like a chokehold, but it's technically not (as the POA would be the first to tell you). Technically, a chokehold cuts off the flow of air to the brain, whereas the carotid restraint restricts the carotid artery and restricts the flow of blood (in which oxygen is carried, but no matter).
Therefore, it's a strangehold and not a chokehold. A small quibble, you'd think, but then again, there are dozens pages of quibbles about the SFPD's use-of-fore policy.
Police in California have long been barred from using the “bar-arm chokehold” to subdue a resisting suspect — and police in Los Angeles blamed the Rodney King beating on the police's inability to choke him, thus they had to beat him with sticks — but some departments are still allowed to do the carotid restraint.
The carotid restraint is amazingly effective: in one study, subjects were subdued within ten seconds.
But some police watchdogs want it banned. The S.F. Public Defender's Office, the American Civil Liberties Union, and the S.F. Bar Association all proposed banning the carotid restraint in their suggested use-of-force policies.
The POA wants this “tool” in officers' arsenals.
Per a POA press release today:
As one patrol officer has stated: “I am a 5'4” female that has rarely used force in my 28 years of law enforcement. However, in moments where I have been attacked, the carotid restraint has saved my life. It has saved my life three times because the person that attacked me was huge and extremely violent. The carotid restraint applied correctly due to training was perfectly effective and caused no injury to the suspect. It is a tool that can be effectively used by all officers — small, large, male, female — to safely manage a violent suspect.
Another key dispute: SFPD want the ability to be able to shoot at a moving car. Again, the version of the use-of-force policy approved by the Police Commission bans this; the POA wants it back it — offering, somewhat reasonably, the situation of a police officer watching a madman in a speeding SUV headed towards a family of four.
“[T]his policy would prevent an officer from shooting the driver to prevent that driver from killing a family of four in a cross-walk, even if the officer had a clear shot and there was little risk of injury to anyone else,” the POA wrote in its protest of that policy.
Other POA beefs with the use-of-force policy run the gamut from reasonable to bizarre. According to the POA, a person in handcuffs can drive a car — which: maybe? But that's not threatening to upend the reforms put in motion since Mario Woods' death. Strangling people and shooting at cars are.