New Haven Police Chief James Lewis wants his entire force to have Tasers.
Lewis said so at Wednesday’s Aldermanic Public Safety Committee meeting, where Aldermen discussed the use of Tasers by the New Haven Police Department. He added that if the board approved funding for more Tasers, city officials should purchase ones that, unlike the ones police use now, don’t have cameras.
Also at the meeting, the committee passed a resolution to accept a federal grant for what committee vice-chair and Ward 22 Alderman Greg Morehead called the first undercover vehicle for the NHPD.
The NHPD began using Tasers, which disrupt voluntary control of muscles, 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.
Lewis, flanked by two fellow officers, said New Haven has been the only place he has worked where the distribution of Tasers has been delayed by public scrutiny. He emphasized the importance of outfitting the entire police force with Tasers.
Lewis argued that Tasers are easier to carry and less dangerous than the heavy clubs that police now carry. Using more Tasers, Lewis said, would reduce the number of broken fingers, dislocated shoulders and other contact-related injuries that could cost the force in manpower and workers’ compensation. He cited surveys conducted by other police departments that have shown up to a 70 percent reduction in injuries after the addition of Tasers.
If Aldermen approve more Tasers, Lewis said, they should consider Tasers without cameras. Out of the roughly 100 Tasers acquired by the police force in spring 2007, five are now in need of $250 battery replacements. If police used Tasers without cameras, however, NHPD officials would only pay $29.95 per unit whenever the battery dies, he said.
Taser cameras only activate when police turn on the gun, Lewis said. He added that in-car cameras take better quality video and are more cost effective. Lewis proposed putting such cameras in 40 cars for $200,000.
At the meeting, Ward 17 Alderman Alphonse Paolillo Jr. agreed with Lewis, saying that Taser cameras failed to record clear images.
“I hope we can push this program and get every officer a Taser,” Paolillo said.
The committee also approved a donation by the U.S. Department of Justice to purchase an undercover car. If the Board of Aldermen approves the grant, city officials would be able to purchase a $25,000 vehicle and spend $11,000 for equipment, fuel and maintenance.