Tasers should play a more prominent role in community policing, aldermen said at their meeting Tuesday night.
Aldermen recounted what they called the successes of Tasers in reducing fatalities as they accepted the final report of the Task Force on Improving Police Practices. Under the policies set forth by the report, the New Haven Police Department will be required to provide quarterly updates on the use of Tasers to the Public Safety Committee — a step that aldermen hope will help foster communication between the department and the Board of Aldermen and assuage city residents’ concerns about the weapons’ use.
The report finalizes a series of recommendations, four years in the making, intended to reduce the frequency of shootings by officers in the line of duty. The task force began its investigation following the death of two civilians at the hands of police officers who fired their guns while on duty.
In a letter presented to the Board of Aldermen 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].” In the course of its investigation, the task force recommended that the city arm its police officers with Tasers to implement “a use-of-force continuum” — a recommendation the city adopted nine months ago.
Last night, aldermen stressed the effort that went into preparing the final report.
“At the time [of the task force’s creation], there was a lot of debate about whether it was a duplication of what we did in the Public Safety committee,” Ward 19 Al Paolillo said. “Close to four years of work has gone into this … [A] significant Taser policy is going to minimize the use of deadly force and save lives.”
As of this March, Paolillo said, there have been 30 total incidents in which police officers drew or used Tasers since their implementation as part of a citywide pilot program nine months ago.
Ward 12 Alderman Gerald Antunes remarked before the order passed unanimously that Tasers not only help prevent civilians from being unduly harmed in confrontations with officers, but also help police officers avoid the trauma associated with using deadly force.
When officers shoot a gun, they must be taken off normal duty while the case is investigated by the police department and are often subjected to intense public and media scrutiny, Antunes said. And he said the aftermath of the shootings often leads to depression among those unable to continue in their regular jobs.
With the development of “a use-of-force continuum,” police can make more nuanced judgements, he said.
The city deployed 50 Tasers last July, Paolillo said, but it will now be doubling that number as new officers are trained in their operation.
“[We] hope the interim chief [and] the new chief let these Tasers be utilized in the field, that police walking beats be equipped with the Tasers,” Paollilo said.
Meanwhile, the aldermen skipped over, once again, an ordinance adding two assistant-chief positions to the Department of Police Services budget.
Ward 24 Alderwoman Elizabeth McCormack said before the meeting that the ordinance will be held indefinitely until the city hires a new chief of police. The delay will give the new head of the department — a post temporarily being filled by former Asst. Chief Stephanie Redding — the chance to weigh in on whether the two positions are desirable, McCormack said.
At the close of the meeting, Ward 14 Alderwoman Erin Sturgis-Pascale asked for a moment of silence to remember Mila Rainof MED ’08, who was killed Sunday morning after being hit by a car while crossing York Street near South Frontage Road.
Accidents can be prevented, and more tragedy avoided, she said, if the city is willing to be creative with street design.
“This time, it was no one’s fault,” Sturgis-Pascale said. “It’s the result of decades of policies that have led to our current dangerous streets.”
While speed bumps and pedestrian signs should be considered, she said, more sustainable solutions, such as a “slalom” design of alternating street-side parking, would slow traffic while also developing the area.
The next Board of Aldermen meeting will be held May 5.