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Cop Shooting Prompts New Police Gun Policy in San Fran

SAN FRANCISCO (CN) - A new policy issued in the wake of the shooting death of Mario Woods earlier this month requires San Francisco police officers to justify pointing their firearms at an individual for any reason.

The policy, reportedly issued in a Dec. 11 police bulletin, comes on the heels of protests and calls for Police Chief Greg Suhr to resign over after five officers shot and killed the 26-year-old Woods on Dec. 2.

Woods was walking in the Bayview neighborhood of San Francisco when police, suspecting his involvement in a stabbing, shot him with bean bag rounds before unleashing dozens of bullets and inflicting more than 20 gunshot wounds.

Suhr initially stated the officers were acting in self-defense because Woods was wielding a knife and refused to disarm, but video evidence appears to contradict that conclusion.

Woods' mother, Gwendolyn Brooks, filed a wrongful death suit in Federal Court last Friday, saying cellphone videos show her son did nothing to threaten the officers that shot and killed him.

Adante Pointer, an attorney with the John Burris Law Firm representing Woods' family in the suit, said he sees the new policy as one of several steps the city must take to ensure officers exercise better judgment before resorting to deadly force.

"It's unfortunate that it cost somebody their life, and that this policy is essentially written in blood," Pointer said, adding the department also needs better training, a change in culture and a renewed focus on de-escalation tactics and nonlethal conflict resolution.

The new policy makes pointing a gun at a person a "use of force" incident that requires police officers to report the episode to supervisors and justify their actions in writing.

Across the bay, Oakland implemented a similar policy as part of a police misconduct settlement negotiated by Burris. The settlement placed the city's police department under a court monitor for five years.

The San Francisco Police Officers Association has called for the new policy to be suspended until the union meets with management regarding the "change in working conditions," according to the San Francisco Chronicle.

Association president Martin Halloran did not respond to a phone call seeking comment Wednesday, but in a Dec. 16 statement he said police are "permitted to use whatever force is reasonable or necessary to protect others or themselves."

Halloran said that although officers try to avoid deadly-force situations at all costs, in certain instances "this is our final option after all forms of nonlethal force have been exhausted."

He recommended equipping all officers with nonlethal tasers, which temporarily disable individuals with an electric shock. Although 700 studies have shown tasers are safer and more effective than other uses of force, the proposal to equip officers with them has been rejected twice by "individuals who choose to play politics with public safety," he said.

Mayor Ed Lee last week ordered Suhr to review his department's policies on use of force and revamp officer training to emphasize deadly force as a method of last resort.

"Since last week, the chief is already equipping officers with protective shields, instituting significant changes to instruction for when and how officers use their firearms, and increasing mandatory, recurring training on de-escalation skills," Lee said. "Our police department will have at least as much training in de-escalation as we do in use of force."

San Francisco has seen 103 police shootings since 2000 resulting in 37 deaths and 35 injuries, according to the lawsuit filed by Woods' mother.

No officer was found to be at fault or to have violated policy in any of those shootings, even those that occurred "under the most questionable circumstances," according to the complaint.

The San Francisco Police Department did not return a phone call and email seeking comment on the new firearm policy sent Wednesday afternoon.

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