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Sunday, February 14, 2010

Eugene, Oregon panel to propose Taser policy revisions

February 14, 2010
Jack Moran, The Register-Guard

An intensive review of the Eugene Police Department’s Taser policy is nearly complete after eight months of work by a police commission subcommittee, but how the group’s proposed changes would result in changes to officers’ on-the-street use of stun guns remains unclear.

The group’s members hope to wrap up their work at a meeting on Thursday. If they do, their policy recommendations will be reviewed by the full police commission at a meeting next month. Once the full commission agrees on the proposed update, the policy will be sent to Police Chief Pete Kerns’ desk for approval.

The City Council may weigh in on the Taser rules at some point, although it’s not yet known if that discussion would take place before or after Kerns endorses an updated policy.

The subcommittee has worked closely with police department officials on a revised policy and has received significant input from community members and American Civil Liberties Union representatives, among others.

“We all want a reasonable policy that allows Tasers to be part of officers’ arsenal,” subcommittee chairman Joe Alsup said. “It’s all about harm reduction.”

Alsup said two controversial Taser cases in Eugene have influenced the discussion, as has the group’s review of about 40 other incidents in which officers used stun guns during the past two years.

Another factor is a recent federal appeals court ruling that concluded police can be held liable for using a stun gun against an unarmed person who poses no immediate threat.

Police officials working with the subcommittee have informally agreed to two changes that Alsup characterized as “major.”

The first would allow an officer to use a Taser when faced with a person posing a credible threat of “serious” physical injury to someone, including themselves. The current policy does not specify how serious the threat of injury must be to use a Taser.

The second would allow Taser use when an officer confronts a person who creates an immediate, credible threat to themselves or someone other than a police officer.

Police do not appear supportive of another proposed change the subcommittee is considering. It would allow police to use a Taser against someone who creates an immediate, credible threat of physical injury to an officer only after that person “engages in active physical resistance.”

Police Lt. Doug Mozan said that particular modification, if approved, could require officers in some instances to unduly delay using a Taser, thus increasing the probability that someone could be injured during a confrontation.

Mozan added that the proposed changes “are still up in the air” and that police “are open to more discussion.”

Another contemplated addition to the policy would allow officers to use Tasers on people involved in only certain types of crimes.

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