Police chiefs urge caution with stun guns

/ Source: The Associated Press

A police chiefs association is recommending that law enforcement departments using electronic stun guns, or those considering buying them, develop specific protocol for their use and track each time the weapon is deployed.

In the report released Monday, the International Association of Chiefs of Police urged police agencies to place stun guns on a use-of-force chart — helping officers to decide better which tool to grab in a given situation.

The largest provider of stun guns is Taser International, but its electricity-shooting weapon has come under fire from human rights groups as a number of deaths have been blamed, at least partially, on the devices.

The device shoots darts 25 feet that deliver 50,000-volt jolts for about five seconds. According to Amnesty International, some 103 people have died after being shocked with the weapons, which can also be used like cattle prods.

In recent months, after several deaths that followed Taser shocks, some police departments have suspended their use to re-examine guidelines on their handling. Many also are awaiting better data on health risks. Several states are also considering purchasing and use restrictions on the weapons.

The report doesn’t offer specific advice on when or how to use Tasers. Rather it encourages agencies to appoint a “leadership team” of agency heads, trainers, attorneys, medical professionals, media and other community liaisons to devise exact use guidelines.

The report said that departments need to decide whether certain groups — mentally challenged, children, elderly, pregnant women, or those with known visual impairments or compromised health — should be excluded from Taser use.

The report also directs departments to decide what situations are appropriate for Taser deployment, such as whether the weapons should be used on fleeing suspects or for compliance. It also says police departments should decide when — if ever — it’s appropriate to shock a person multiple times or use a Taser in direct contact with a subject.

Taser did not return a message for comment on the report. The company has previously said that it has its own safety guidelines, which officers learn when they become certified to use Tasers.

Several Florida police departments and sheriff’s offices have been criticized over their use of the stun guns. The most controversial cases include Taser use on a jailed prisoner, on a 6-year-old boy in a school office and on a 12-year-old female truant who was running from a police officer. In another case, a drug suspect was restrained in a hospital bed and allegedly shocked because he refused to give a urine sample.

Police in Chicago suspended their use of stun guns following the death of a suspect who had been shocked nine times.

The National Institute of Justice, an arm of the Department of Justice, gave the police chiefs’ group a $40,000 grant to research Taser use and help departments produce use guidelines.