Less-Restrictive Rules On Police Use of Stun Guns Announced
A Taser X26 stun gun is displayed at the Oakland Country Sheriff's Office in Pontiac, Mich., Dec. 12, 2006. (AP//Carlos Osorio)
The Star-Leger via YellowBrix
October 07, 2010
TRENTON – Attorney General Paula Dow today will announce new rules on stun guns that significantly loosen restrictions on how many police officers can use them and when they can be deployed.
The revised policy, obtained by The Star-Ledger Wednesday, acknowledges the concerns of some police officials who said the original rules adopted less than a year ago were too restrictive.
“In some instances, the original policy would have prohibited the use of a conducted energy device” — meaning a stun gun that fires electrified darts — “even though an officer would be allowed to use deadly force,” says the revised policy, which takes effect today.
Under the new rules, police are allowed to stun anyone threatening death or serious injury. The old rules restricted the use of electric shocks to armed, emotionally disturbed people. In addition, police will now be able to stun handcuffed or fleeing suspects in limited situations. Police will still be prohibited from using a stun gun to force a suspect to comply with orders.
Perhaps most significantly, police departments will be able to allow any officer who completes required training to use stun guns. Up until now only SWAT team members and supervisors were allowed to use the weapons. The number of supervisors in each department authorized to use stun guns was also limited by the population of the town, with a maximum of four per department.
Stun guns, commonly called Tasers after the weapon’s leading manufacturer, have become widespread and controversial in recent years. New Jersey became the last state in the country to allow police to use stun guns last November.
In Chicago, Taser use quadrupled earlier this year when the police department started placing them in every squad car.
Human rights group Amnesty International has raised concerns about Tasers, saying they should be treated much like deadly weapons. Spokeswoman Wende Gozan said at least 439 people died after being struck by police Tasers since June 2001.
Dennis Kenney, a professor at the John Jay College of Criminal Justice, said Tasers were originally promoted as nonlethal, leading to loose standards on their use. Police have since upgraded safeguards, he said.
“A Taser is very valuable as a defensive tool as long as it’s regulated,” he said. “The same applies to any tool police have.”
Two 2007 incidents in New Jersey — Maplewood police fatally shot a schizophrenic man who had a knife, and Willingboro police shot and injured a troubled teenager who had scissors — led state officials to consider equipping officers with less-than-lethal weapons like stun guns. Last November then-attorney general Anne Milgram authorized police to use stun guns for the first time, but tightly restricted their use.
The New Jersey State Policemen’s Benevolent Association, which represents 33,000 officers, applauded the changes set to be announced today.
“We appreciate the attorney general listening to our concerns and reforming the policy for practical applications,” President Anthony Wieners said. “The new policy will provide officers with additional less then lethal resources that we desperately need.”
All stun guns deployed in the state will still be required to have an integrated camera to record each incident when fired. Much like dashboard cameras in patrol cars, they help reveal police misconduct or protect officers from false allegations.
The Brentwood, Ca. Police Department’s 38 Tasers are equipped with cameras that start recording when the weapon is turned on, spokesman Lt. Tom Hansen said. “There’s a lot of controversy over the Taser,” he said. “(The camera) was one more tool to use to protect us, and be transparent to the public.”