Santa Clara County open to Tasers despite drop in uses of force
The Santa Clara County Sheriff's Office is requesting to arm its deputies with Tasers. File photo.

Santa Clara County leaders may equip sheriff’s deputies with Tasers as uses of force trend downward.

The Board of Supervisors on Tuesday voted 4-1 — with President Susan Ellenberg opposed — to explore implementing Tasers for deputies at a smaller scale than Sheriff Bob Jonsen originally requested. After an hour of public comment in which most speakers called Tasers deadly and ripe for lawsuits, supervisors said they were open to the weapon — but not ready to sign off. Jonsen will come back with more details in September, and county health officials may conduct a peer-reviewed study on the weapon’s adverse health effects.

“I am comfortable in moving forward with exploring this,” Supervisor Sylvia Arenas said at the meeting. “What I’m not comfortable with is completely saying yes.”

The Santa Clara County Sheriff’s Office initially sought to deploy between 300-1,100 Tasers funded with forfeited assets — money confiscated by authorities for being involved with crimes — and used by deputies in the jails and out in the field. Jonsen argued deputy safety is of mounting concern and that Tasers could prevent deadly fights between incarcerated people.

“There have been numerous incidents where multiple inmates are attacking another inmate and the deputy’s command presence, escalation tactics and use of pepper spray were ineffective at curtailing that assault,” Jonsen said at the meeting. “In good conscience I can no longer stand by without trying to get our staff an intermediate device designed to keep them and others safe in our community and jails.”

Santa Clara County is the only county within the state to not equip sheriff’s deputies with Tasers, officials said. Sheriff’s deputies service the cities of Cupertino, Los Altos Hills, Saratoga and the county’s unincorporated areas. Campbell, Los Gatos, Sunnyvale and San Jose all equip their departments with Taser technology.

Most of the more than 50 public speakers warned that Tasers are a liability issue, voicing concern about people with heart and other medical conditions. Some invoked a Reuters investigation that explored more than 1,000 fatalities across the U.S. that followed police altercations involving Tasers, while others referred to a recent sheriff’s report finding a majority of use of force cases in the county impacted people of color.

That report also shows a 21% decrease last year in uses of force such as pepper spray, physical grabbing and hitting — from 798 incidents in 2022 to 627 incidents in 2023. Of those incidents, 143 occurred in the field and 484 occurred in the jails. Sheriff officials said there were no uses of force last year involving firearms.

Of last year’s total incidents, deputies inflicted minor injuries on people 30 times and sent people to the hospital for treatment 24 times. The report also states sheriff’s deputies sustained a total of 98 injuries during conflicts in the jails and field, 75 of which required hospital treatment.

Of the incidents last year, 522 uses of force involved Hispanic or Latino people, 240 involved Black people, 174 involved white people and 71 involved Asian people. The 2022 report only breaks down this demographic by gender. The 2021 report has no demographic breakdown whatsoever.

“The new sheriff wants to use the minority community as a control sample to test this device,” Sean Allen, a retired sheriff’s sergeant and board member of the NAACP San Jose/Silicon Valley, said at the meeting.

Sheriff officials argued the latest Taser 10 model’s technology removes prior versions’ risk of high voltage stunning and shoots from an improved range of 45 feet, meaning more time and space for de-escalation during conflicts.

Jonsen maintained there has been no scientifically established conclusion that Tasers induce fatal cardiac effects. County supervisors in their vote directed health officials to look into doing a peer-reviewed study.

Supervisor Otto Lee said Tasers give deputies out in the field an option to subdue violence without guns. But he isn’t convinced they should be used in the jails.

Supervisor Ellenberg wasn’t convinced on the idea at all.

“We are collectively working toward real criminal justice reforms,” Ellenberg said. “Implementing a tool which has, as its sole purpose, incapacitation by inflicting high voltage is directly antithetical to this work and in my opinion is inhumane.”

Contact Brandon Pho at [email protected] or @brandonphooo on X, formerly known as Twitter.

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