August 25, 2009
By JEANNE KNIAZ, Voice Reporter
A request by the Memphis Police Department to implement the use of Taser electronic stun guns as a method of subduing suspected criminals has been turned down by the city council.
Deployment of electronic control devices has been a subject of debate since Memphis Police Chief Elena Danishevskaya acquired three units for her department through a grant program many months ago.
At their most recent meeting the council revisited the controversial topic and, after airing opposing opinions, once again shunned the electroshock weapons - capable of immobilizing subjects via a 50,000-volt discharge - as an option for the city's officers.
"My feeling, still, is that Tasers for this department is not for us," Mayor Charles Garber said.
Often touted as a safe alternative to containment versus firearms, Taser use by law enforcement officials has escalated in correlation to mounting opposition as questions arise with respect to the risks associated with this method of restraint.
Tasers temporarily debilitate individuals via the projection of probes connected to the unit by wire. An electrical pulse transmitted through the wires to the point where the probes come in contact with the body effectively eliminates neuromuscular control and coordinated movement for the duration of the surge.
Alternative methods to Taser deployment include utilizing pepper spray, mace, batons, bodily force or bullets.
Proponents argue that Taser technology incapacitates confrontational or high-risk subjects who endanger peace-keeping officials, the public or themselves and that overall the devices are safe with a low incidence of injury.
A study funded by the National Institute of Justice in 2007 determined that, of roughly 1,000 incidents involving Taser use, 99.7 percent of the cases involved no injuries or only mild consequences such as scrapes and bruises. In 0.3 percent of the cases a hospital admission was required.
Taser-associated deaths and injuries during the last decade have propelled this issue to the forefront of public debate with respect benefits versus risks.
According to Amnesty International the total number of deaths in America following Taser gun usage has risen to 351 since June 2001.
A report issued by the human rights organization last December cited concerns suggesting that Taser use can aggravate conditions previously compromised by drugs, exertion or illness and has even resulted in the deaths of seemingly healthy individuals.
The city of Warren is currently a defendant in two separate lawsuits concerning Taser usage by police officers - one claiming that the excessive force ultimately led to the death of an unarmed 16-year-old, and another wherein the defendant claims that during a diabetic emergency he was victimized by a Taser incident and a false arrest.
These issues weighed on the minds of Memphis City Council members as they discussed the possible use of three Taser devices their police chief had obtained through a grant program in 2006.
"I know it's been controversial in the past and I was wondering if the council would entertain a special meeting where we could have an expert come in and answer our questions?" Councilman Eric Schneider asked after reiterating that their police chief would like to implement usage.
"I just think that it is too risky. How many times have you had, in the last two years, any kind of problem?" Mayor Garber inquired of Danishevskaya who answered that on two occasions Tasers could have been effective - the first involving a suspect who reportedly had a gun, and the second a suicidal subject who was brandishing a knife.
"That was a good opportunity to use something like a Taser because, obviously, you don't want to shoot somebody like that but you do want to contain them. It is a good tool when properly used," the chief said.
Further discussion did little to influence action in favor of stun guns.
Councilwoman Kim Gunst commented that she would like the police chief to be able to carry a Taser, while Councilman Terry Treend remarked on the low number of instances in the community that require restraint.
Referring to the Warren lawsuits, Memphis Mayor Charles Garber said city couldn't afford the risks associated with Taser usage.
"There are two suits right now ... where in fact somebody has died after being tasered. It is not necessarily the Taser itself but the medical problems that they had prior to being tasered. I don't think we can afford the lawsuits and that is my personal opinion," he said.
"I'll try to keep an open mind but I agree with the mayor. I don't think we should have Tasers in the city of Memphis. I really have a problem with it. Things have come out in the paper. I know that doesn't happen very often but, for me, once is too much," Councilman Larry Wilson said, alluding to Taser-related deaths.
"I really couldn't support it."
Council members them moved to support a suggestion that the city police committee investigate options for disposing of the department's current Taser devices and report as to their findings at the next city council meeting.
WELCOME to TRUTH ... not TASERS
Wednesday, August 26, 2009
August 25, 2009