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Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Portland police chief wants to know: How should his officers use their Tasers?

January 26, 2011
Maxine Berstein, The Oregonian

A motorist wanted on a felony warrant and driving a stolen vehicle suddenly bails out of the car and is about to scale a fence in a residential neighborhood. Should a pursuing Portland police officer use his Taser on the suspect to stop him?

Should an officer in the city's downtown who is trying to clear the entertainment district at club-closing time use a Taser against a man who is intoxicated and not following instructions, and then balls up his fists at officers?

Police Chief Mike Reese is seeking community input on what the criteria should be for officers to use their stun guns.

Portland's current policy -- which allows police to use a Taser when a person engages in, or displays the intent to engage in physical resistance -- is more permissive than other cities' and model guidelines.

Deputy City Attorney Dave Woboril says Portland's current guidelines are not precise enough and need to be improved to better guide officers. The review also comes in light of recent court opinions by the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals. The federal appeals court ruled in late December that police can be held liable for using a stun gun against an unarmed person who poses no immediate threat.

Woboril is meeting with local citizen groups to gauge their opinions, and threw out the two scenarios to get people talking at a recent meeting of the Community and Police Relations Committee of Portland's Human Rights Commission.

"The Taser directive doesn't quite work for the Police Bureau," Woboril said.

Assistant Chief Larry O'Dea said the chief has asked for input to learn: "What are the community expectations?"

Tasers are considered a "less-lethal" weapon, designed to temporarily incapacitate or restrain a person when lethal force is not appropriate. In 2005, the bureau issued Tasers to all of its officers. They're used in two ways.

They can fire barbs attached to wires that transmit electricity to A suspect. Each press of the trigger activates the stun gun for one cycle, which typically lasts five seconds. If a second cycle is needed, the officer can pull the trigger again to send an additional wave of electricity through the probes attached to a suspect.

The Taser also can be used in a stun mode, where the gun is pressed directly against someone's skin to shock them.

In contrast to other municipalities, Portland's policy allows Taser use when the subject shows only the intent to resist police.

According to guidelines issued by the Police Executive Research Forum, a Taser should be used only on people who are actively resisting, being actively aggressive or to prevent the subject from harming themselves or others, according to a City of Portland audit.

Five of eight police agencies that city auditors studied have the stricter threshold, including Cincinnati, Colorado Springs (Colo.), Denver and San Diego police, and the Los Angeles County Sheriff's office.

The American Civil Liberties Union of Oregon doesn't think the Police Executive Research Forum's guidelines are tight enough, according to Dave Fidanque, executive director. The ACLU says police should only use Tasers if they encounter active physical resistance where there is a likelihood the situation will escalate to a need for deadly force. The Ashland Police Department is the only one in Oregon to adopt this stricter policy.

"This chief especially puts value on how our policies and procedures reflect what the community wants," bureau spokeswoman Lt. Kelli Sheffer said.

Anyone wanting to provide input about the proper use of Tasers by Portland police may contact the commander of the precinct where they live, and participate in their precinct advisory committee.

Portland has three precincts. The addresses and phone numbers are as follows:
North, 449 N.E. Emerson, 503-823-5700.
Central, 1111 S.W. 2nd Avenue, 503-823-0097.
East, 737 S.E. 106th Avenue 503-823-4800.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

I would like to tell them where to put their tasers...where the sun never shines....