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Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Maker of Taser stun guns used by Syracuse police reacts to NYCLU report

October 19, 2011
Robert A. Baker / The Post-Standard

Syracuse, NY -- Taser International, the maker of stun guns used by Syracuse police and other police agencies in the state, reacted to several points made by the New York Civil Liberties Union in a report released today on Taser use in the state.

The NYCLU studied Taser-use reports from Syracuse and seven other police departments in the state and found that police departments are “consistently misusing and overusing Tasers” and faults an absence of sound policies, training and guidelines in the use of Tasers.

In a release today, Syracuse police said they have yet to read the report, which became available to the public at 11 a.m. today.

“The Syracuse Police Department will have no comment on this report until we are provided with an official copy of the report and we have had time to thoroughly read and examine the information contained in this report,” the release said.

Taser International, which also had not received a copy of the report, reacted to what was published this morning in The Post-Standard.

One point was on the number of deaths quoted in the report. More than 200 people died after being shocked by Tasers, according a Department of Justice figure quoted in the published report.

Tasers were listed by authorities as the cause or contributing cause in only 12 of those cases, Steve Tuttle, vice president of communication for the Arizona-based manufacturer of stun guns, said today. And of those 12 deaths, the majority were from injuries suffered in a fall after being stunned.

The report said only 15 percent of the incidents reviewed involved a subject who was armed or thought to be armed, which, the NYCLU said, “shatter the illusion that Tasers are primarily used as an alternative to deadly force on armed or otherwise dangerous subjects.

Tuttle said that he was surprised that the number was so high. Nationally, he said, the number is closer to 10 percent. The vast majority of subjects who are hit by Tasers should be unarmed, he said.

“You don’t bring a knife to a gunfight,” Tuttle said. “You don’t replace firearms with Tasers.”

Taser International does not train police departments on the use of the Taser, Tuttle said.

“We don’t train users, we train certified teachers,” Tuttle said.

The departments send officers to train with Taser International to become teachers in their own departments, but Tuttle said.

“It’s up to the police departments to train their officers,” Tuttle said.

Each department may have different standards for defining use of force, which includes when to use a Taser device, he said.

“We can’t teach officers use of force. We are not experts in the use of force,” Tuttle said. “We show them safe operation.”

"If they are suggesting good training and good policies are part of Taser training, they are correct," Tuttle said.

As far as people of color being stunned in greater proportion than white people, Tuttle said that number must be compared to the arrest rate of each community studied.

“Is there a higher proportion being arrested?” he asked. If there is, he said, it stands to reason that a high proportion would be stunned as well.

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