The new Police Department general order on electronic control weapons comes as the officers' labor union -- a longtime proponent of Tasers -- has pushed a measure that will be on the city's June ballot. If voters approve Proposition H, it would require the Police Department to purchase and deploy the weapons.
Police Chief William Scott and members of the Police Commission oppose the measure because it would take control over Taser policy out of their hands.
Hirsch brought a series of amendments that removed a definition of "assaultive" from the general order and restricted the officers from using Tasers based only on the threat of an assault.
"For example, if somebody is sitting against a wall and the officer is trying to arrest that person and the person who’s sitting down says, ‘I’m going to kick your ass,’ that’s an attempt to assault or batter someone," Hirsch said. "And I don’t want a Taser used in a situation like that."
The final policy allows officers to use Tasers when someone -- either armed or unarmed -- is injuring or threatening to injure someone and "there is a reasonable belief that the subject has the intent and capability of carrying out the threat."
Officers can also fire Tasers at someone who is violently resisting arrest.
The policy also allows officers to use the weapons in "drive-stun" mode. The normal "probe mode" fires two probes attached to wires that complete an electric circuit when they stick in someone's skin, causing involuntary muscle contractions and temporarily incapacitating the person.
Drive-stun mode delivers a direct, localized shock from the front of a Taser and doesn't cause the same level of muscle contractions. But it hurts.
"The drive-stun mode does not incapacitate," said Commissioner Petra DeJesus, saying using it is torture. "It is just purely to inflict pain."
Scott said there are legitimate uses for drive-stun, such as if an officer is in a fistfight with a suspect, and the majority of commissioners agreed to allow it.
The commission's Taser policy also includes a list of populations that officers should give "special consideration" to when deciding whether to use a Taser, including elderly people, pregnant women, children and people with severe mental illness.
Commissioner Bill Hing tried unsuccessfully to further restrict Taser use on those people.
"We make sure that it’s clear that you don’t use Tasers on anybody on this list because of the potential harm to them," he said. "That’s why we have this list."
Hing's amendment was voted down.
Scott opposed the union's ballot measure as "the antithesis" of a broad federal reform effort he was hired to carry out.
San Francisco Police Officers Association president Martin Halloran praised the vote in an SFPOA statement released Thursday.
"Common sense and public safety won last night! Under pressure from the SFPOA's ballot measure, the police commission finally stopped dithering. They knew our measure had overwhelming support from the public and so they finally took action and passed a Tasers measure," Halloran said in the statement.
SFPOA leadership has said they may abandon support of their own ballot initiative if the city moves to arm officers with Tasers by the end of the year, but that appears contingent on the union's ability to further shape the policy through negotiations, called meet and confer.
Halloran was also critical of the political process preceding the vote.
"Unfortunately, as usual, the Police Commission process was a shambles. In trying to appease every anti-public safety naysayer, the Commission has not yet issued the final policy. So we do not yet have a copy of what was passed. We will review the policy; determine where we need to meet and confer to improve it; and get it finalized quickly," Halloran wrote in the statement.
The commission passed a policy, but broke with recent practice and is not inviting further negotiation from the union. The meet and confer process has stalled major policy changes in the past few years, including new use-of-force rules.
"The courts have ruled you don’t have to meet and confer on this stuff," former ACLU attorney John Crew told the commission during public comment. "Why are you doing it on a Taser policy, especially when they’re holding a gun to our head saying give us what you want or we’re going to spend half a million dollars to pass Prop. H?"
Language that would have sent the Taser rules to negotiations was deleted.
"This commission has no duty to send this to the POA," Commission President Julius Turman said. "I don't need the POA’s permission."
Scott declined to reiterate his opposition to Proposition H after Wednesday night's vote, saying he'd rather focus on creating training and a review board required by the Police Commission's policy. He said Tasers could start to be deployed as soon as December.