Naked City

APD Tightens Taser Policy

Chief Stan Knee unveiled the APD's updated policy on stun gun use, designed to clarify – and tighten up – the circumstances under which the weapon can be used. Among new guidelines are a ban on using the weapon on pregnant women, children under 14, the elderly or disabled, or suspects "fleeing from officers for a misdemeanor or nonviolent offense, unless the suspect is armed and poses an immediate threat to the officer or another person," or using the weapon "when flammable liquids or gasses are present." The policy also orders officers to "give explicit verbal commands" prior to firing the electroshock weapon. Once it has been fired, officers are instructed to "attempt to ascertain from the subject whether pre-existing medical conditions (such as a history of heart problems) would warrant summoning EMS personnel to the scene." Additionally, the policy has been updated to reflect the new technological features of the X26 Taser, which records internally the number of times the weapon has been fired and the length of time that the shock was administered. After firing the weapon, the policy instructs officers to download the data for submission with a completed use of force report.

Still, Taser foes are not pleased. According to Debbie Russell with the Austin Spokescouncil, which has spearheaded an anti-Taser campaign, the policy doesn't go far enough to ensure that the weapons are used properly and that officers are held accountable for policy violations. APD needs to "address the real problem, and that is the violation of the guidelines already in place," she said in an e-mail. Police "routinely tase people already subdued, redeliver the tase after the first shock. ... This is torture and has to be stopped." Austin Police Association President Mike Sheffield said that although the policy is "not as clear as we'd like on all issues" – i.e., a clear statement that the weapon can be used against suspects who are "aggressively resisting" arrest – it should reassure city officials and the community that the department understands that the weapons have generated controversy in other cities and should reaffirm APD's commitment to using the weapon "judiciously." "We're peace officers," he said. "Our concern is being able to keep the Tasers and to keep using them, and we should continue to completely equip everyone on patrol, because we think [that using Tasers] has saved lives." He points out that since deploying the weapons, the department has seen a dramatic decrease in injuries to both officers and suspects – more than 50% in each case. Indeed, Knee is expected to present injury data and additional information on the APD's use of electroshock weaponry at today's (Thursday) City Council meeting.

In the four months that Houston police have been armed with electroshock stun guns, they've deployed them 144 times – and in 87% of those deployments, minorities were on the receiving end of the 50,000-volt shock, reports the Houston Chronicle. The HPD has purchased 3,700 Taser brand weapons; police have used them about once a day since December, the daily reported last week – 65% of deployments were on blacks, 22% were on Hispanics, and 13% were on whites. Nationally, from 1999 through August, 70% of people shot with a stun gun were minorities, according to the Chronicle. "It always seems that the minorities are the first to get a taste of something like this," Houston LULAC Director Sylvia Gonzalez told the daily. "We are very concerned." Meanwhile, HPD Assistant Chief Charles McClelland told the paper that the racial breakdown on stun gun use mirrors overall police interaction with minorities – last year, minorities accounted for 67% of all HPD stops. "The Taser itself is not a racial device," he said. However, the daily reported that the department began using the new weapon before the department issued written guidelines for its use. Indeed, Taser guidelines weren't added to the HPD use of force policy until January, the Chronicle reported.

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policeTasers, Austin Police Department, APD, use of force, Taser, Stan Knee, Mike Sheffield, Austin Police Association, APA, Debbie Russell, electro-shock weapons, stun guns

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