At Councilwoman Cecilia Taylor's request, they also required the department to produce monthly reports with information such as how many times the Tasers were discharged and whether each use complied with the department's use-of-force policy.
The approval authorizes the department to spend $47,540 of the grant on new Tasers and $59,950 on upgrades to automated license plate readers, which exceeds $100,000, but there is enough funding to cover the excess, according to police Chief Dave Norris.
The grant program, part of California's Citizens Option for Public Safety, guarantees each city a minimum of $100,000 to support front-line municipal police services.
In certain situations, Tasers are an effective non-lethal force option and among the least likely to harm both officers and those they interact with compared to other options, Norris said. Other options are pepper spray, a stick or baton, or shotguns retrofitted to shoot beanbag rounds, each of which has its own drawbacks, he explained.
From 2014 to 2020, he told the council, Tasers have been actively used by the Menlo Park Police Department only a few times each year and were displayed on average less than 10 times per year. The department currently has a low inventory of Tasers and they are at the end of their usable lives, Norris said. The new model, Taser 7, is yellow, making it easier for both officers and those they interact with to tell it apart from a firearm. Another feature of the model is that drawing it will automatically start an officer's worn body camera, Norris said.
The automated license plate reader upgrades were requested because the technology is at the end of its useful cycle and needs to be replaced, Norris said. Data collected by the readers is protected in a highly secure database, and Menlo Park's policy for that data and when it can be accessed is "among the tightest, privacy-forward policies of any city in the Bay Area," Norris told the council.
Mayor Drew Combs added that Tasers are "a staple of modern policing" as a non-lethal law enforcement tool. "I'm supportive of our department having the latest technology when it comes to this too, accepting that there, again, needs to be a larger discussion about the use of force," he said.
"I'm concerned about police officers having equipment that isn't 100% safe for them. I'm also uncomfortable about the use of force," Taylor said.
Councilwoman Jen Wolosin said that after some high-profile cases in San Mateo County involving Tasers, she was hesitant but added that "it's concerning the equipment (the officers) have is so old."
In 2018, three people in San Mateo County died after Tasers were used on them: Chinedu Okobi in Millbrae, Ramzi Saad in Redwood City and Warren Ragudo in Daly City. Taser stuns can cause heart problems that can lead to death, according to research on Tasers.
Wolosin said she was more comfortable with getting the new Tasers if vehicles were also equipped with defibrillators to help combat those potential effects on the heart.
Norris said he welcomed the opportunity to equip police vehicles with defibrillators, calling it a "first responder safety responsibility that officers would welcome." He added that he expected it to cost around $42,500.
Nash said she was OK with approving funding for the license plate readers but not approving the new Tasers.
During the council's discussion, Norris said that sometimes the department responds to requests from the East Palo Alto Police Department, which does not have Tasers, to have officers with them available on-scene. Before Menlo Park purchased Tasers for its department in 2014, it used to do the same thing, Norris said. The devices, he said, are "able to take some very chaotic situations down to a point of safety with a minimum amount of injurious action on anyone involved. Other agencies recognize that as well."
Nash, who voted against the decision, said, "It really frightens me when I'm hearing we're using our Tasers in other communities."
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