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Wednesday, October 22, 2008

Taser use draws fire from Amnesty International - suburban cops start shocking trend

October 22, 2008
By Jessica Van Sack, Boston Herald

Local cops in Bay State suburbs are zapping suspects with Taser jolts at a shocking rate as the state looks the other way and even Boston police have shied away from the controversial weapon, a Herald review has found.

In 2007 alone, the weapons were fired at least 200 times in 30 towns, according to a Herald analysis of quarterly reports from the 30 departments using high-powered stun guns. That’s a four-fold hike from the year before, according to documents from the Executive Office of Public Safety.

Some small-town cops now think of Tasers as the police backup they never had.

“For urban departments, they have a whole bunch of people who show up,” said Greenfield Police Chief David Guilbault. “Here, it’s one-on-one, or it’s 20 to 25 minutes before another person comes. And since we’ve implemented (Tasers), we’ve seen injuries go way down.”

Added Wareham Lt. Irving Wallace: “If I had the money to buy everyone a Taser and put everyone through training, I’d do that.”

Tasers came under fire last month in New York when a man threatening suicide on a ledge fell to his death after being zapped.

The Herald reviewed reports from Wareham, Freetown, Norton and Greenfield showing Tasers were used on many suspects accused of disorderly conduct and threatening suicide with weapons.

One notable foul-up occurred in June 2007 in Nantucket, when a cop pulled the trigger 13 times in the mistaken belief the taser’s probes didn’t have to hit the suspect, just come close. “It was more of a training issue for us,” said Deputy Chief Charles Gibson.

The stunning rise in Taser use has drawn the fire of the local Amnesty International chapter, which says Tasers were supposed to be a non-lethal alternative to gunfire. “Now it seems clear that police departments are using Tasers not as an alternative to lethal force but to get compliance,” said Joshua Rubenstein, northeast regional director for Amnesty. The organization says that since 2001, 320 people have died after being “tased.” Rubenstein said he was disturbed to learn that despite vowing closer scrutiny, the state no longer reviews the circumstances of Taser use - and only tracks the number of zaps and the gender and race of targets.

Not all cops in the ’burbs are sold on the high-voltage stunners. “There are many questions,” said Milton Police Chief Richard G. Wells. “I think that it’s still kind of new. I’d be more inclined to see what some more studies show.”

Even Boston police have yet to arm their officers with the very weapon Hub brass urged the state to embrace four years ago. “My concern was some questionable incidents where people died during the use of Tasers,” said Boston Police Commissioner Edward Davis, adding that he’s considering the weapon.

Stun-ning numbers
By Herald staff
Wednesday, October 22, 2008

Here are the top 10 towns where police reported using tasers most often, according to a May 2008 report by the Executive Office of Public Safety.

The study tallied stun gun use from Oct. 1, 2005, to Sept. 30, 2007, based on quarterly surveys submitted by local departments.

Current figures are still being compiled.

Town / population/ # incidents tasers were used / # times tasers were fired **






Fall River/91,474/8/15





** In some incidents, tasers were fired more than once at more than one suspect.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

These AI reports are often misleading. They say usage is up, when in fact more taser are on the street. If more tasers have become available, then maybe the usage per taser could actually be lower? The reports are misleading because they only show one slanted view of the data. We need the entire view and details on each case to make a fair judgment call.