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SDPD: Pointing A Taser At Someone Can Be 'De-Escalation'

A San Diego police car parked in downtown San Diego, Oct. 24, 2018.
Susan Murphy
A San Diego police car parked in downtown San Diego, Oct. 24, 2018.

San Diego Police Department officials on Wednesday told a City Council committee that an officer pointing a taser at someone and giving them orders can be a de-escalation tactic — comments that prompted pushback from council members.

The remarks came during a meeting of the council's Public Safety and Livable Neighborhoods Committee during a slide presentation on SDPD's de-escalation training.

SDPD: Pointing A Taser At Someone Can Be ‘Deescalation’
Listen to this story by Andrew Bowen.

Councilwoman Vivian Moreno asked about a particular slide that stated: “hands-on techniques are encouraged to gain control.” Sgt. Michael Belz, who conducts de-escalation for recruits in the city’s police academy, gave an example to explain.

"Deploying a taser and aiming it at somebody and using the targeting laser on them, giving them commands that they comply — because of the presence of the taser, using that taser is essentially de-escalating from having to go to a higher level of force," Belz said.

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SDPD's technical definition for de-escalation is "the use of strategies and/or techniques to gain voluntary compliance from a subject in order to maintain control of an incident while reducing the need for physical coercion."

Moreno said she disagreed with the department's taser example, suggesting the threat of a taser amounted to physical coercion.

Councilwoman Monica Montgomery asked police officials for a list of all the techniques they considered de-escalation, wondering whether a chokehold could be seen the same way.

"What exactly are our de-escalation techniques?" said Montgomery, who chairs the public safety committee and has made police reform a top priority. "We need to see that so that when we're talking to each other, we understand the definitions that we're using."

Two key state laws passed in 2019 that put new requirements on police departments. AB 392, authored by San Diego Assemblywoman Shirley Weber, set a new standard for when police can use lethal force. Officers can use lethal force only when "necessary" — though that has yet to be clearly defined by the courts.

The second law, SB 230, requires police departments to maintain a use-of-force policy by next year. The policy must also require that officers "utilize de-escalation techniques, crisis intervention tactics, and other alternatives to force when feasible."

SDPD said Wednesday it is currently developing the use of force policy, and that it began a 10-hour training program on the concepts of de-escalation last month.

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