Just over four months after a New Haven police officer used a Taser on a Yale student during a controversial raid, city officials are touting the device’s benefits.
At a meeting of the Board of Aldermen’s Public Safety Committee Wednesday night, NHPD Chief Frank Limon and co-head of the department’s patrol division Capt. Patrick Redding briefed aldermen about the police’s use of Tasers in the past year. Ward 13 Alderman Alexander Rhodeen, who chairs the committee, said he is gathering data on Taser incidents so the city can increase public understanding of the device, which he said is making both police officers and civilians safer.
“There is a stigma attached to Tasers, and we scramble to justify them to residents when there’s a bad headline,” Rhodeen said. “But we don’t want to lose a valuable asset to a headline because of an emotional public reaction.”
As evidence of its effectiveness, Rhodeen and Limon highlighted the Taser’s use in 12 situations in 2010 involving suspects in possession of a weapon. A handgun was recovered in all but one of those incidents.
Redding said Tasers promote public safety while not putting suspects in lethal danger. Before the use of Tasers, Redding said, police officers had to resort to much more harmful weapons, such as nightsticks.
“Issues of police brutality go down in districts with Tasers,” Redding said. “They put an end to confrontations.”
According to a report Limon submitted to the committee, there were 116 incidents of Taser usage in 2010. In each incident, the report said, the suspect became “combative” or disobeyed an officer’s verbal commands. The most common type of Taser incident involved a narcotics transaction, arrest or search, followed by incidents involving intoxicated suspects refusing to obey commands.
Tasers were first introduced to New Haven policing in 2007 after the city determined that it needed alternatives to lethal weapons in their arsenal. That conclusion was reached by a task force created in response to an incident in 2004 in which a police officer shot and killed Hiram Marrero, a mental health patient who attacked case workers and threatened police with a knife.
In spring 2007, the city purchased 50 Taser guns. Since then, that number has risen to 182. Thirty-two additional Tasers have been purchased since 2009, Redding said.
Redding, whom Limon recently put in charge of the patrol division amid pressure from a discontented police union, added that Tasers have economic benefits as well. Because Tasers often allow officers to avoid injury by ending dangerous situations, Redding said, the city saves money on workmen’s compensations claims. While Redding said he does not have data on workmen’s compensation trends in the past few years, he said he believes that in 2010, the department had the fewest officer injuries in many years.
Rhodeen said if the department could demonstrate that the use of Tasers resulted in genuine cost savings, citizens might be more likely to embrace them.
The Taser is a hand-held weapon that electrically shocks and usually incapacitates an individual with two stainless steel barbs.