Friday, March 7, 2008

City cops to get 50 more Tasers

By William Kaempffer
Register Staff
— The Police Department will purchase 50 new Tasers as the department continues to “very methodically and very slowly” equip the force with the nonlethal weapons.
“We’re in the process of developing a list of 50 new officers,” said Assistant Police Chief Stephanie Redding as she briefed the Board of Aldermen’s Public Safety Committee on the department’s use of the device, first deployed in July 2007 after several years of debate and delay.
The department originally purchased 50, and when the next batch is deployed, about a quarter of the force will have Tasers.
Tasers shoot wired barbs that deliver a brief jolt of 50,000 volts, briefly incapacitating the target.
Since the Tasers were introduced in July, there have been 26 incidents in which Tasers were used.
Half occurred during a night shift, and some 40 percent involved a subject who was having some type of psychiatric episode, including one in which a person begged police to shoot and shouted “suicide by cop,” Redding said.
Any one of the incidents, she suggested, could have justified use of deadly force. Three of the people shocked with the gun were later found to be carrying loaded guns.
The fatal shooting of a mentally disturbed man in December 2004 started the dialogue about Tasers. The death, the third in a series of police-involved shootings, prompted the Board of Aldermen to create a deadly force task force to examine nonlethal alternatives like the Taser.
While Redding acknowledged that she was at first a skeptic, the success of the program so far merits its expansion, but she stressed that the department wanted to proceed methodically.
Redding said the next wave of Tasers will mainly be issued to patrol officers and spread out over the three shifts.
“I think all field patrols should be issued Tasers,” said Alderman Alphonse Paolillo Jr., D-17, a member of the Public Safety Committee, suggesting front-line officers need them the most.
Deployment was a concern for him when the city purchased the first wave. Those Tasers were issued to members of the emergency services division, with the rationale that they already were familiar with specialized weapons, and to others picked by the department, and most of them worked the day shift or inside police headquarters.
A continued concern among some aldermen and at least one member of the deadly force task force is the possibility the Taser could be misused.
Shirley Wayne Washington, a member of the city’s Civilian Review Board and the task force, said she continues to hear about problems from around the country and urged the department to closely monitor use of Tasers. “There is a downside, where the abuse of Tasers is still out there,” Washington said.
The model purchased by the city is equipped with audio and video recorders that automatically start when the weapon is energized.

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