50 Tasers to hit streets by April

Under a plan approved last week by the Board of Aldermen, Tasers will likely hit the streets of New Haven for the first time by the end of the month.

Following last week’s arrival of the New Haven Police Department’s first order of 50 Tasers — each of which cost over $1,000 — select officers will soon be trained to use the stun guns as part of a citywide pilot program, NHPD spokeswoman Bonnie Winchester said. But members of the Deadly Force Task Force, which recommended the pilot program in November, said the NHPD is still expected to present a final policy and procedure to the public before proceeding with training.

NHPD Chief Francisco Ortiz selected members of the Special Emergency Response Team to be trained in Taser use later this month, Winchester said. The officers will be approved to use them upon completion of an eight-hour lesson led by an officer trained by Taser International, which produces the weapons, she said.

Ward 23 Alderman Yusuf Shah, who chaired the task force, said he supported the pilot program — which will likely last one year — because Tasers serve as an alternative to guns when officers need to defend themselves with force.

“I think it’s a less lethal alternative for police officers … with respect to reducing the amount of police involved shootings,” he said. “The reason we had the task force was because we had a significant number of police-involved shootings, [and] when you shoot someone with a Glock nine-millimeter [pistol] in the chest, pretty much they’re going to die.”

When an officer pulls the trigger of a Taser gun, it fires a cartridge containing two small dart-like objects attached to wires connected to the gun. The darts then stick to the skin or the clothes of the target, temporarily stunning him or her with electrical impulses.

Shah said the Tasers record every time they are removed from their holster or fired, and the model ordered by the NHPD also has a camera that is activated whenever the officer removes it from the holster.

He said the data collected by the weapons will make it easier for the NHPD to track every use of the stun guns, and especially any possible abuse, than with other weapons.

“I trust the police of New Haven, but there are concerns of abuse, and should an officer take out this tool and use it, that data would be collected and the officer would be risking his or her career in the department,” he said. “This is very exciting for us … because when you pull out your Glock nine-millimeter, there is no data on how that gun is being used.”

But the NHPD has yet to present its policy and procedure for Taser use to the Board of Aldermen and the community, as it pledged to do before beginning any training, Shah said. He said the chief’s office is currently finishing the plan.

Fellow taskforce member Roger Vann, the executive director of the American Civil Liberties Union of Connecticut, said he abstained from voting on the proposal because he had “philosophical issue” with supporting a weapon that could lead to greater use of force in general.

He said he is concerned about inconsistencies in policies of implementation and the medical treatment of targets in cities throughout the state. The ACLU of Connecticut is currently working on the state level to fashion a consistent, accountable policy, since over half of Connecticut police departments currently use Tasers. He said he hopes New Haven can be a model throughout the state.

“If New Haven wants to be a model for implementing Tasers throughout the state, then they really need to engage with the public more than they have in the past,” Vann said. “That’s partially why this task force was started … there seemed to be sort of a disconnect.”

The taskforce’s pilot program proposed to train 100 officers as part of a one-year pilot program, Shah said. As the city continues to evaluate the pilot, he said, he and the Aldermanic Committee on Public Safety will continue to listen to concerns from the community.

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