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Saturday, June 07, 2008

NYPD expanding use of taser stun guns

June 7, 2008
The Associated Press

The NYPD is expanding its use of the Taser stun gun, an old tool in the law enforcement arsenal, but one that has seen limited use in the nation's largest police force.

Starting Wednesday, thousands of police sergeants will begin carrying electronic stun guns on their belts as part of an effort to give officers more alternatives to deadly force.

The main reason for the change is that newer Tasers are smaller, lighter and easier to carry in a holster than earlier models were, department spokesman Paul Browne said Saturday.

The NYPD has used Tasers since 1984, but policy called for sergeants to store the stun guns in their trunks while patrolling, rather than strapping the weapons to their hips.

They were a little too cumbersome," Browne explained. He said older Tasers were about the size and weight of a large flashlight and considered unessential gear, given all the other items officers have to carry.

The department's emergency services unit, an elite squad of about 400 men and women that has expertise in special weapons, has carried Tasers for some time, but the unit is deployed only in special circumstances.

Going forward, 3,500 uniformed sergeants and other supervisors on patrol duty will be issued Tasers to carry, along with their regular pistols, when they go out on patrol.

Like regular firearms, stun guns can be dangerous and must be used with caution. But Browne said they can be a valuable tool, especially when dealing with psychologically distressed people who might mean no harm, but are acting violently and have lost their ability to comply with an officer's orders.

The NYPD handles 80,000 calls involving emotionally disturbed people each year.

"When police officers are using a gun to stop someone, it is with the understanding that it is deadly force," Browne said. "The Taser is an alternative to that."

[Now, where have we heard "the taser is an alternative to deadly force" before? Oh right - right here in Canada - just before usage creep crept up on us.]

The Tasers used by the NYPD cost about $500 apiece. Officers will carry them on the opposite side of their belts as their service weapons, in part to eliminate the possibility of confusion when they need to draw fast.

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