Task Force Touts Tasers

by Melissa Bailey | November 14, 2006 8:36 AM | | Comments (1)

A group charged with minimizing the use of deadly force by police officers has recommended adding a non-lethal weapon to police officers’ holsters: This Taser stun gun. Will it increase the use of force? Or save lives?

In its final meeting Monday, the Deadly Force Task Force approved recommendations to the Board of Aldermen on how to improve police practices concerning the use of deadly force. The 13-member taskforce was created by the Board of Aldermen two years ago after a string of police-involved shootings, including that of Hiram Marrero, who threatened police with a knife.

Recommendations approved Monday included hiring more mental health clinicians to accompany police to calls, reviving the poorly attended Civilian Review Board, and — the most controversial —launching a pilot Taser stun gun program. The stun gun temporarily immobilizes the subject, sending him or her to the ground.

Chief Administrative Officer John Buturla, Police Chief Cisco Ortiz, and Assistant Chief Stephanie Redding (pictured, left to right) backed the program as a way to stop conflict before deadly force is needed.

Mid-meeting, Ortiz surprised some people in the room by making an open admission that the stun gun wouldn’t replace a gun when a suspect has a deadly weapon, such as a knife or a gun: “If someone pulls out a knife, an officer’s not going to pull out a Taser.”

He added a second surprise: “In communities that have these [Tasers], it increases the use of force.”

Roger Vann, president of the American Civil Liberties Union of Connecticut, questioned why the proposal was being brought to the task force at all, since in cases like Hiram Marrero, a Taser apparently would not have helped. “We’re here to deal with those deadly situations in which people are shot and killed,” he said.

Ortiz and Redding did give two examples of how Tasers might be used.

When cops got into a standoff with a suspected Westville bank robber recently, and had to wrestle him to the ground, cops could have used a Taser to quell the suspect. Instead, they shot him several times, said Ortiz. “That man is lucky to be alive.”

Tasers can also help on domestic calls, when a cop walks in to find someone in close quarters, beating another severely, said Redding. “It’s a very difficult situation to get that person to stop hurting the other person.” She should know: She said she once leaned half-way through a window, grabbed a man and held him around the waist to prevent him from beating someone up.

Ortiz proposes buying 50 Taser guns, to be used by 100 trained officers over a pilot period of one year. Guns, produced by Taser International, can be bought with or without a camera attached. Without a camera, each gun costs $960, including the cost of training, according to Taser International. The model with the camera costs $1,360 each.

East Rock Alderman Ed Mattison, a task force member, said he was convinced of the Taser’s life-saving capabilities, yet concerned that the new tool could be overused. Tasers should be treated with “the same level of seriousness, the same level of scrutiny, as firing a gun,” said Mattison. “What people are afraid of is that they will become a relatively easy thing to do.”

Over 90 of Connecticut’s 169 towns use Tasers in their police forces, according to Jay Kehoe, senior regional manager for Taser International. Each time the gun is fired, it records the date and time of discharge. Camera models record audio, visual and infrared info, reconstructing the scene from the viewpoint of the barrel of the gun. The gun also releases dozens of tiny circles, like hole-punch scraps, with the serial number of the gun written on it.

Kehoe argued the Taser saves lives by interrupting situations before they escalate to levels where deadly force is needed. He said while the gun may induce injuries by causing someone to drop to the ground while running, the electric shock itself is far from dangerous: The amperage would have to be multiplied 15-fold before the electric shock would begin to cause injury on a 100-pound person, he said.

The gun sends fish-hook-like darts into a person’s skin, or clothing, attached to copper wires through which an electro-shock is sent. Click on the play arrow below to watch him demonstrate how the gun is used.

Vann and Karyl Lee Hall of the Connecticut Legal Rights Project, Inc. were the only two on the task force who outright opposed putting Tasers in city cops’ hands.

“We don’t know enough about this to go forward,” said Hall, who questioned if the weapon was “non-lethal.” She mentioned a case in Milford where a man who had swallowed a bag of marijuana, then was struck by a Taser, died after not receiving prompt medical attention.

“To say to the community that the alternative to deadly force is another weapon goes against the grain” of the taskforce’s intent, added Hall.

Vann said the recommendation — a one-year pilot program on Tasers — was too vague, and should be accompanied by specific policy language.

Ultimately, the choice of that policy lies with the chief of police. Ortiz said the department “would only move into this absolutely methodically.” “Our policy is 10 pages long, and says ‘Thou shalt not’ more than it says ‘Thou [shall].”

The task force voted in favor of the Taser pilot program, with two abstentions by Vann and Hall. The complex, controversial issue will continue to be debated in greater depth as the Board of Aldermen examines recommendations made by the taskforce.

Other recommendations, all passed unanimously, included:
• Asking the Department of Mental Health and Addiction Services for money to fund another mental health clinician to support the Crisis Intervention Training module
• Requiring the Civilian Review Board, which currently only reviews cases where citizens submit complaints with police, to review all cases where deadly force is used by a police officer
• Making the CRB a permanent body by changing it from a mayoral executive order into a part of the city’s Code of Ordinances

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Posted by: Bruce | November 17, 2006 8:19 AM

Here's a UCLA student who got tasered for not leaving the school library.


and the (disturbing) video:

Look out Yalies -- don't study too late!

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