Aldermen order Taser report

The Board of Aldermen’s Public Safety Committee instructed the New Haven Police Department on Thursday night to provide the committee with quarterly presentations on officers’ use of Tasers in an effort to assuage community members’ potential concerns about the weapons.

The directive came during a meeting at which the seven members of the committee prepared a final report on the use of deadly police force. The report, which will be presented to the full board April 21, comes nine months after the NHPD began a trial run of Taser use, deploying 50 of the electroshock weapons to senior officers last July. An additional 54 Tasers will be distributed to newly trained officers in the coming weeks, Ward 13 Alderman Alex Rhodeen, chair of the public-safety committee, said at last night’s meeting.

Leith Sharp of Harvard, Julie Newman of Yale and Davis Brookhart of Johns Hopkins spoke in Rosenfeld Hall on Thursday.
Eva Galvan
Leith Sharp of Harvard, Julie Newman of Yale and Davis Brookhart of Johns Hopkins spoke in Rosenfeld Hall on Thursday.

Although he thinks the implementation has gone relatively smoothly so far, Rhodeen said he recognizes that a use of the weapon that was followed by serious injury could upset some members of the community, especially if there is not clear communication between NHPD and the city.

“There will likely be a time when the use of Tasers will become controversial,” Rhodeen said during the meeting. The Deadly Force Task Force report, he said, is the Committee of Public Safety’s attempt to preempt questions about Taser misuse.

The committee also included an amendment requiring that the NHPD update its Taser policies and practices on a regular basis, based on experiences in the field.

The Board of Aldermen began heavy discussion on the possible implementation of Tasers in 2004 after several police shootings ended in the deaths of two civilians, one of whom was mentally disabled. After that, the NHPD and Board of Aldermen began searching for different law-enforcement techniques that would allow officers to use other non-deadly techniques to restrain criminals.

In a letter dated Dec. 20, 2004, seven aldermen called for “new tools, new methods and additional training to minimize the use of deadly force and prevent the likelihood of officer [involvement].”

Now, the NHPD has found Tasers helpful in arresting individuals without permanently injuring them, Rhodeen said during the meeting. According to reports presented to the committee by the NHPD, Rhodeen said, there have not been more than nine instances of Taser use per month since July, except for October, when 11 instances were reported. None of these instances caused lasting harm, and oftentimes the officer only needed to remove the Taser from its holster and threaten its use in order to be effective, he said.

Tasers, Rhodeen said, are one rung below deadly force but are not meant to be used before verbal warnings, physical restraint or police batons.

Still, Ward 12 Alderman Gerald Antunes said during the meeting, it is important that NHPD representatives maintain clear lines of communication with aldermen on the use and effectiveness of Tasers. A quarterly presentation on Taser use from the police chief is essential to ensuring correct Taser use, he said.

But Ward 27 Alderman Tom Lehtonen said that if there is a particularly quiet three-month period, the police chief should be excused from having to personally present his report to the committee. In that case, Rhodeen said, there is already a protocol in place, in which only a written report would be required, and the chief of police would not have to physically present it to the committee.

But Antunes said the chief should be willing to make the effort.

“If the chief of police can’t meet with us four times a year, then maybe we don’t have the right chief of police,” Antunes said.

Current Chief of Police Francisco Ortiz announced his resignation in November. A new chief has yet to be announced; Assistant Chief Stephanie Redding will act as interim chief after Ortiz officially steps down April 12.

The Committee on Public Safety will present the finalized Deadly Force Task Force report to the Board of Aldermen on April 21, and the full board will vote on whether to approve the report April 22.

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