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Saturday, January 01, 2011

No Tasers, no rise in Rockford (Illinois) police injuries

December 31, 2010
Chris Green, Rockford Register Star

ROCKFORD — When Rockford police officers began carrying Taser guns, advocates touted the less-than-lethal weapons as a means to reduce physical confrontations between officers and offenders.

But the Tasers were taken away in October 2009 after the manufacturer issued a nationwide warning advising against shooting someone in the chest. The bulletin said it opens the officer, the agency and TASER International to liability if heart damage, such as sudden cardiac arrest, or death occurs.

Critics predicted a spike in the number of injuries to officers as offenders, without the threat of a Taser, resisted arrest.

Fourteen months later, that has not been the case for Rockford officers.

In fact, charges of resisting and obstructing an officer have decreased each year since 2008 when 823 such incidents were recorded, followed by 440 in 2009 and 313 as of Dec. 1, 2010. The same downward trend was evident in cases of aggravated battery to a police officer: 75 in 2008, 58 in 2009, and 56 as of Dec. 1.

In a year that saw more than 160 deaths of on-duty law enforcement officers nationwide — compared with 117 in 2009 — Taserless Rockford officers have for the most part managed to stay safe.

Deputy Chief Greg Lindmark said Rockford officers are armed with something just as useful as a Taser and their service weapon, and that’s additional training on how to defuse a potentially volatile situation.

“Our Crisis Intervention Team has been called out 13 times this year,” he said. “That’s more than we’ve ever had.”

Deputy Chief Lori Sweeney also said every officer in the department this year has undergone at least eight hours of crisis intervention training.

“Good communication skills are key,” she said. “The first resource should be communications, and you work your way up the levels of use of force until you get the compliance that you need.”

Sweeney said basic CIT training entails teaching officers verbal skills and techniques to gain compliance, and how to be aware of a person’s behavior and any signs that may suggest mental illness and homelessness.

However, verbal commands are not always going to be the appropriate initial response by an officer.

“It’s the suspect’s actions that will create a reaction from an officer,” Sweeney said. “Sometimes the situation is so that you are automatically at deadly force.”

As of Dec. 30, deadly force was something Rockford officers did without in 2010. The last time officers used deadly force was the shooting of Mark Anthony Barmore in August 2009 inside a downtown day care center.

“The Barmore case did open up a lot of communications and awareness (between police and the community) to try to understand what happened,” Sweeney said.

In 2008, deadly force was not used, but that summer three people died after altercations with police: One, a Loves Park case, involved physical restraint and pepper spray; the other two cases involved the use of Taser guns.

In 2007, Rockford police used deadly force four times; three of the scenarios resulted in the death of a suspect.

While the use of Tasers is still being scrutinized as is TASER International’s request that the guns be fired at someone’s back or other parts of the body other than the chest, Sweeney said the weapons are still another viable option that officers should have to subdue a subject.

“We’ve been working with our city legal and union about the prospects of reissuing them,” she said.

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