NYCLU Says Police Overuse Tasers
Wednesday, October 19, 2011 - 06:06 PM
In nearly 60 percent of incidents across the state, police officers misued stun guns, according to a report released by the New York Civil Liberties Union on Wednesday. And — with the exception of the NYPD’s Taser guidelines — many departments did not comply with the recommendations of national law enforcement agencies.
The report’s findings also noted that Taser use was justified in less than half of the incidents reported in Albany, Glens Falls, Greece, Guilderland, Nassau County, Rochester Saratoga Springs and Syracuse. And in 35 percent of the cases, the subjects were engaged in defensive or passive resistance. There were no incident reports for the NYPD.
But, the NYPD was singled out as the exception to the NYCLU’s concerns when it came to lawful use of the weapon. The NYPD’s Taser guidelines complied with the recommendations of the Department of Justice and the Police Executive Research Forum, unlike many other departments.
"Some departments’ policies reflect much better sought out use of force guidelines for these weapons," said NYCLU Senior Staff Attorney Corey Stoughton, the report’s primary author. "In particular, the New York City Police Department’s policies clearly reflect an intimate relationship between recommendations of law enforcement experts and the New York City Police Department’s policies."
William Valenza, chief of Glens Falls Police Department, in an interview with WNYC, said he found the NYCLU’s accusation of Taser overuse odd, since his officers used them in only 0.5 percent of arrests in 2010.
"That’s clearly not a pattern of abuse," Valenza said. "It’s a pretty low number. I’m comfortable with it."
The study also found that 40 percent of the stun gun incidents involved at-risk subjects, such as children, the elderly, the visibly infirm and those who were seriously intoxicated or mentally ill. Experts said Tasers should be used only where there is active aggression by a subject or a documented threat of physical harm to another person.
"Our analysis shows that police officers are using Tasers in inappropriate, irresponsible and downright deadly manner," NYCLU Executive Director Donna Lieberman said. "This disturbing pattern of misuse and abuse endangers lives."
According to the report, an independent study published by the DOJ this year raised serious concerns about the possibility of serious injury and death from continuous or prolonged Taser activations.
The NYCLU said problems with Taser use stemmed from a lack of compliance with the recommendations of national law enforcement experts and from relying “exclusively on training materials” provided by the weapon’s manufacturer.
"Our point in issuing this report is not to single out any particular police department," Lieberman said. "But rather to highlight problems that are the result of the dramatic, more than 30 fold increase in the number of police departments using Tasers in the last ten years."
In New York State, 350 law enforcement agencies use Tasers.
The report’s findings were based on analysis of 851 Taser incident reports from eight departments, as well as 10 departments’ guidelines.