Over the next few weeks, all BART police will start carrying Tasers -- which they will be required to have on them at all times. This policy has been in the works for years, but in the light of the July 3 controversial shooting, the need for the less-than-lethal guns seems all the more pressing.
Until now, Tasers were optional. BART spokesman Linton Johnson told SF Weekly that during last week's shooting only one of the two cops at the scene was carrying a Taser. However, Johnson declined to say whether the officer who shot 45-year-old Charles Hill was also carrying the stun gun.
Tasers also proved controversial in the 2009 Oscar Grant shooting, where then-BART Officer Johannes Mehserle III shot Grant in the back at point-blank range. Mehserle's defense was that he mistakenly grabbed for his gun when he meant to actually use his Taser. He was convicted of involuntary manslaughter and released from jail last month after serving only 10 months of his sentence.
At the time of that shooting, Tasers could be worn in three different locations on an officer's body, but in 2010 the policy was revised.
"Tasers are carried in only one location -- weak side, weak side draw," Johnson says. That means if an officer is right-handed, his Taser will be carried on the left and drawn with the left hand. BART officers are required to have 40 hours of training every year which, according to Johnson, is triple the amount that is required by the state.
Tasers work by delivering a 50,000-volt shock in a five-second burst of electricity, which is designed to override the subject's central nervous system, causing uncontrollable contraction of muscle tissues and instant collapse. The guns can shoot probes up to a distance of 21 feet.
Deputy Chief Daniel Hartwig said at recent press conference that "the Taser is never used in a life threatening, immanent danger situation." Johnson also told SF Weekly that "when confronted with deadly force, the officer uses the necessary amount of force to remove the danger."
In the case of Hill, who witnesses described as a nonviolent "drunk hippie," police have said repeatedly that he was an "aggressive suspect." They said Hill was moving toward officers with a knife an alcohol bottle.
BART officials have yet to release the video footage that captured the shooting, but Johnson says that the transit agency has "no reason to hang on to it" and will release it immediately following the investigation.