You may have arrived here via a direct link to a specific post. To see the most recent posts, click HERE.

Saturday, November 20, 2010

New Jersey lets cops use stun guns

November 20, 2010

Police officers in New Jersey will start carrying stun guns within three to four months, state officials said, after new guidelines were issued allowing law enforcement officials to use the devices.

The state Attorney General's Office issued the guidelines last month after resisting a nationwide trend for years, making New Jersey the last state in the country to let police use stun guns.

The new rules expand on a previous policy, issued last year, that was so restrictive that not a single police department in the state bought or used the devices.

Officials say that New Jersey's new stun-gun policy is one of the most cautious in the country, taking into account lessons learned from other states.

Previously, the number of supervisors allowed to use stun guns in each department was limited by the population of the town, with a maximum of four stun guns per department.

The new rules let department chiefs determine how many officers should carry the weapons. An officer will not need authorization from an on-scene supervisor to fire a stun gun and will not need to make a diagnosis as to whether a target is "mentally ill" or "temporarily deranged" in order to use the weapon.

The policy, however, still carries tough restrictions: Each officer with a stun gun must be trained every six months, and the devices must have video-recording capability to document every use of the weapon.

Strict rules on usage

There will be no use of stun guns against passively resistant suspects, and no shooting of people who appear frail or as though they might fall and sustain serious injuries. Failure to follow the rules could lead to disciplinary and criminal charges against officers.

"There is definitely caution at work here," said Peter Aseltine, spokesman for the Attorney General's Office. "We have seen circumstances in which these devices have been used inappropriately."

The new guidelines took effect last month, but officials do not expect police officers to carry the weapons until March at the earliest.

The state is in the process of preparing a curriculum to train police officers on how to use stun guns, Aseltine said.

It will then start taking proposals and bids from vendors to determine the approved models that police departments will be allowed to use, Aseltine said.

Stun guns with video capability cost about $1,200 apiece, according to Taser International, which produces the Taser-brand stun guns.

Thousands of police departments, military agencies, hospitals and sports venues across the country use stun guns. Taser International has sold more than half a million of the devices worldwide, said company spokesman Steve Tuttle. As of the end of September, those devices had been used in more than a million incidents, he said.

Police officials say stun guns offer officers an important and potentially lifesaving alternative to conventional firearms in many instances.

"We have had incidents with armed suspects, people who carried knives and firearms," Englewood Police Chief Arthur O'Keefe said. "We have had situations where the police had to make life-or-death decisions."

One such case involved Francis Sanabria of Wayne, who was shot dead by police in 2005 after he allegedly charged at officers with a kitchen knife.

Walder later was charged with manslaughter but was acquitted after a trial last year.

Not everyone is a fan of stun guns, however. Critics, including Amnesty International, say more than 400 people have died after being shot by stun guns.

"I don't like them," said John Burton, a California attorney who has represented plaintiffs nationwide in stun gun cases. "I think they are more dangerous than the manufacturer lets on."

Burton said there is no evidence that the use of stun guns reduces deadly police shootings.

"That's because when the officers have grounds to shoot somebody, they shoot them," he said. "They don't mess around with a Taser."

Rather, he said, there is evidence that police use them on people who are not offering any resistance.

In one case from 2008, an emotionally disturbed Brooklyn man was standing naked on a ledge when a New York City police officer shot him with a Taser. The man, Inman Morales, fell headfirst to the pavement and died.

Drop in shootings?

Whether the use of stun guns reduces deadly police shootings and officer injuries is unclear, with different studies pointing to varying results.

A 2008 study by the RAND Corporation found that an increased use of Tasers by police officers in Cincinnati and Austin, Texas, led to a decrease in the use of other forms of force.

Another study by researchers at the University of California, San Francisco reached a conflicting conclusion in 2009 after surveying the use of Tasers at dozens of police departments in California.

The researchers compiled data on injuries and police use of force for five years prior to the introduction of Tasers, and compared it with the five years after departments started using stun guns.

"Taser deployment was associated with a substantial increase in in-custody sudden deaths … with no decrease in firearm deaths" or serious injuries to police officers, it concluded.

Aseltine said New Jersey took anecdotal information from other states in formulating its new policy on stun guns, but did not rely on any studies. The new policy will allow the state to gather data on whether stun guns help reduce deadly shootings and officer injuries, Aseltine said.

New Jersey has had more than 450 incidents involving police shootings since 1997, resulting in 135 deaths, according to statistics from the state Attorney General's Office.

Law enforcement officials in New Jersey say the restrictions in the new guidelines are designed to avoid injuries and deaths, and that the required video recording will ensure accountability.

"All past attorneys general have been very concerned to make sure that stun guns are used in limited manner," Aseltine said. "It is an important tool for law enforcement, but still to be used in a limited manner."

No comments: