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Wednesday, May 05, 2010

Wyoming law agencies tighten Taser use policy

May 5, 2010
trib.com - Wyoming's online news source

The Jackson Police Department and Teton County sheriff's office are tightening their Taser policies to prohibit use of the stun guns to force compliance by people who don't pose an immediate threat.

The change follows an April 7 incident in which a Jackson police officer used a Taser to stun a man who resisted arrest.

Police had pulled over Frank Meek, 60, because of an alleged license plate violation for which he had already been issued a citation. A video of the arrest showed Meek was shocked with a Taser after Meek sat down when an officer tried to handcuff him.

County prosecutors later dismissed a misdemeanor charge against Meek for interfering with a police officer. The police department has sought an independent state review of the incident.

Jackson Police Chief Todd Smith said Tasers will no longer be allowed in such cases because Meek was not being physically aggressive toward officers. Under the old policy, the officer's use of a Taser after several warnings was allowed.
"We're really only using it as a defensive tool, rather than an offensive tool," Smith said.

Teton County Sheriff Jim Whalen said the incident presented an opportunity for his office to revisit its Taser policy, even though deputies weren't involved.

"Sometimes policy really doesn't come into focus as well as it should until we have these kinds of things happen," Whalen said. "What's important is that law enforcement agencies should be willing to take a second look at how we're doing business."

The Jackson police and Teton County sheriff's office are currently participating in a long-planned joint training session, officials said. The session includes a review of laws and focuses on a range of issues, including pursuit and use-of-force policies.

The agencies' new policies allow officers to use Tasers to defend themselves, citizens or suspects. Such uses might include cases in which the suspect is taking a posturing stance toward the officer, refuses to stop assaulting someone or threatens to commit suicide.

Tasers also may be used to stop a fleeing suspect if the suspect would be a threat to the community if he escaped. The nature of the crime plays into whether Taser use is appropriate, Smith and Whalen said.

"For me, it's going to come down to the gravity of the offense," Whalen said.

Smith said Tasers are intended as a low-level use of force that causes less damage than traditional police weapons such as batons and pepper spray. But the public seems to perceive it differently, he said.

"The public perception is that the Taser is a much greater use of force," Smith said. "You have to meet community standards."

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