Two months after vowing to boycott Arizona over its new immigration law, Richmond city leaders plan to buy $84,000 worth of Tasers and cartridges from an Arizona company.
The City Council on Tuesday night voted unanimously to grant a boycott exemption, paving the way for the Taser purchase. Mayor Gayle McLaughlin voted for the exemption because Arizona's law does not go into effect until later this month, she said. She hopes the U.S. Justice Department's lawsuit will stop implementation.
"The police chief has stated these are needs he has, that it's the only place to get it from," she said. "If (Arizona's law) starts at the end of the month and hopefully it doesn't, we have to be rigorously enforcing" the boycott.
The Arizona measure, which was signed into law April 23 and goes into effect July 29, gives police authority to check documentation and detain people they suspect of being illegal immigrants if a person is detained or arrested in connection with another offense.
Supporters say it is a necessary tool where other measures have proved inadequate. Opponents fear it will lead to racial profiling of Latinos and other minorities.
In May, McLaughlin and Vice Mayor Jeff Ritterman proposed a resolution opposing Arizona's law and barring city workers from traveling there on business. The council passed it unanimously, with Nat Bates absent. The resolution also said the city would refrain from doing business with Arizona companies and sever contracts with firms there, if it can do it legally.
Taser International, the manufacturer of Tasers, and Proforce Marketing, the sole stun gun vendor for this region, are both in Arizona, police said. The city's new three-year service agreement is for spare parts, new Tasers and replacement cartridges at $28,000 a year.
"In my experience, Tasers that are used in a responsible way actually save lives," police Chief Chris Magnus said. "I believe we've saved quite a few lives here, both those of the public and within the Police Department."
The city spent more than $400,000 since 1997 to outfit police officers with Tasers, a weapon designed to pacify through an electric shock. Concerns about Taser deaths and the potential for long-term injury led McLaughlin to vote against the police department's requests to purchase the weapons twice.
Richmond police have developed an extensive internal policy about use of Tasers. A Richmond police representative will represent the city at an upcoming policy forum about Tasers held by the Police Executive Research Forum. Magnus, who will attend National Night Out the day of the conference, said he plans to send a representative with a letter to Taser expressing the city's concerns about doing business with Arizona, and asking for an alternate, out-of-state vendor for its products.
Other cities boycotting Arizona have found similar ways to work around Taser and other Arizona company relationships. In Sacramento, the wording of its boycott resolution allows city departments to eschew Arizona commerce unless to do so would create undue hardship or expense.
The San Jose City Council last month revisited its boycott policy in part because of the Taser conundrum, ultimately providing special dispensation for purchases of Tasers and certain other goods and services. Oakland avoided the issue, a police spokesman said, because the department made a large order of Tasers in 2009 and will not need more for at least two years.
Some cities back the Arizona law. Lake Elsinore city leaders passed a resolution in support and took it a step further, adopting a city law requiring employers run prospective employees through the federal E-Verify program to check if they are eligible to work in this country. E-Verify is administered by the U.S Department of Homeland Security, Citizenship and Immigration Services and Social Security Administration.