No complaints about Taser use, NHPD says

When New Haven Police Department officers could not subdue a man outside Toad’s Place late Saturday night, they used one of the newest weapons in their arsenal: the Taser.

Two years ago, police would not have had this option — a few NHPD officers were first armed with the stun guns in July 2007. Since they were introduced to the department, NHPD spokesman Joseph Avery said, the guns have been used in 85 incidents as of Tuesday. While Avery said Tasers — which deliver a 50,000-volt shock — have helped officers, their use is highly controversial.

The NHPD began using Tasers after a series of police shootings in 2004, which prompted the Board of Aldermen to form a task force to explore less-than-lethal weaponry. The Yale Police Department, meanwhile, does not carry Tasers.

Avery said the Tasers have cut down on both officer and subject injuries, as they are less deadly than other options. Of the 85 incidents of Taser use by the NHPD, Avery said there has not been a single formal complaint about the officer using unnecessary force.

“The Taser X26 may be used when a subject(s) actions are perceived by the officer to be of Active Resistance or greater,” according to NHPD regulations. “The Taser X26 may also be used to prevent persons from harming themselves or for defense of yourself or a third party against vicious attacking animals.”

Many precautions are in place to ensure the Tasers are used appropriately, Avery said. Every time the weapon is energized it begins to record audio and video, which is later reviewed. Every officer who is armed with a Taser goes through eight hours of training each year on the proper use of the weapon, Avery said.

But in 2007, 26-year-old David Mills died after being shot five times by Hamden police with a Taser. Mills’ mother has sued the Hamden police and the officer who stunned him, claiming the police used “unreasonable force” on Mills, though the New Haven State’s Attorney determined the police had acted appropriately in the Mills incident.

“People die from the Taser on a fairly regular basis,” Jonathan Einhorn, who is representing Mills’ mother, said in an interview on Wednesday.

According to a December 2008 report by Amnesty International, 334 people have died after being shot by Tasers in the United States between 2001 and August 2008.

The report also notes that in fewer than 50 incidents was a Taser found to be a contributing factor in the death. In only a couple of disputed cases has a Taser been found to be the primary cause of death, said Steve Tuttle, vice president for communications at Taser International, which manufactures the Tasers used by the NHPD.

Another criticism of Tasers came from the U.N.’s Committee against Torture, which said in 2007, “The use of these weapons causes acute pain, constituting a form of torture.”

Tuttle disputed this classification.

“The U.N. Committee based its statement on the fact that a Taser device provokes ‘extreme pain,’ ” he said. “By invoking such a strict definition, each and every tool available to law enforcement officers worldwide to end a use-of-force confrontation, including pepper sprays, batons and even fists, could then constitute a form of torture.”

Einhorn said there have not been enough studies done on the safety of the guns for them to be considered safe. Most of the studies that have been done, he added, have been conducted by Taser International.

Tuttle, however, said 80 percent of the more than 240 studies that have been conducted were done independently of Taser International, and showed that Taser devices are far safer than any other weapon on an officer’s belt.

According to a Taser International press release, 390,000 Tasers have been sold to 13,900 law enforcement and military agencies.

Comments

  • PD 093

    Yale University Police is missing a critically needed interim step in the continuum of force when dealing with violent, drug influenced or emotionally disturbed persons. The Taser offers a non-lethal alternative to deadly force or the sometimes lifelong after-effects of blunt impact weapons such as batons.
    The Taser gives the officer the opportunity to employ an effective alternative to his pistol when things go very badly, quickly.

  • Emergency Responder

    I think Tasers are a great alternative to a firearm and a useful police tool, however they are overused. Police frequently use Tasers as an easy solution when a non-violent suspect is merely being uncooperative.

    I saw one incident (on COPS of all places, where you'd think there is a certain level of prescreening) where a 20-something male was crying and calling out to his mother, who was being arrested, while ignoring an officer's demand to surrender for about 10 seconds. He was ~3-4 paces from the officer and not making any quick or aggressive movements - he wasn't even facing the officer. There was no reason to suspect any danger, yet the officer tased this man before subduing him as he was not following police commands.

    I am sympathetic to the notion that uncooperative people always present a certain level of danger to police officers, but this does not give carte blanche to law enforcement to use a Taser in these kinds of situations. The Taser is marketed as a safe alternative to deadly force which saving lives, and I would be comfortable expanding its use to any situation in which there is reason to suspect imminent danger to any person, or possibly even to property. It should, however, never be used on persons showing no signs of aggression - it should be seen more as a last resort, and not as a tool for use against the uncooperative.

  • Anonymous

    #2's got it right. Tasers are inevitably abused by police, and it'd just be a matter of time before they killed some kid by accident. No thanks.

  • yaylie

    The standard should be higher than Active Resistance - the officer should feel he is in danger or that there is some risk of him being overpowered in this active resistance. It should never be used when there are 3+ officers on one unarmed suspect. I firmly believe all sorts of melee tactics including arm twists, baton jabs to the ribs, baton hits to the legs, punches, strangleholds, and tackles should come before the taser if what I said in the first sentence does not hold. One must keep in mind the death risk of the taser in addition to the always injurious fall that accompanies being hit by the taser and becoming unable to fall on one's hands, etc that is more deleterious than any of the unsavory melee tactics I described due to the risk of head injury from the fall.

    Oh well, at least it looks like the cops here can't use the taser on someone who's fleeing.

    YPD don't need tasers - they barely need guns! When's the last time a YPD officer fired his gun? They're not dealing with all the ghetto shit that NHPD has to deal with… Although I can't say I'd be tearful if one of the secret society douchebags in those cloaks and masks got tased in front of me.

  • Disgruntled Alumh

    If tasers are safe, then any cop who wants one should have to be tased first, to see what it's like.

  • no comlpaints?

    NHPD doesn't seem to care much for its credibility -- There has been an unanswered complaint lodged nearly from day one by enough of the public it made news stories.

    When tasers were proposed, and to this day, NHPD's policy is not to disclose to the public its protocol - where it puts the taser in its continuum of force.

    The comments to this story alone (and these are typical) support the observation that the public wants and feels it has a right to know what the guidelines are for using them.

    Second only to the fact that they can trigger a fatality are concerns over the low threshhold for their use.

    NHPD should be transparent on this.