After spending the last few years stocking up on Tasers, the NYPD is now primarily using the electrical devices to stun people of color and those experiencing mental health crises, according to a new police oversight report.
The analysis, released Thursday by the Civilian Complaint Review Board, examined four years of allegations of improper Taser use—totaling 114 complaints between 2014 and 2017. They found that 59 percent of complainants identified as black, while 37 percent were deemed "emotionally disturbed."
The report includes a handful of recommendations to address these disparities, but concludes that officers in a majority of cases "used the Taser in accordance with the standards set forth by the NYPD Patrol Guide." The agency substantiated just seven Taser-related complaints over the three year period—a higher-than-average exoneration rate.
The analysis follows a 2016 report on NYPD Taser use from the ostensibly independent watchdog, whose 13 members are appointed by the mayor. That CCRB report was later found to have been heavily revised after it was shared with City Hall and the NYPD.
Among other changes, a recommendation not to discharge the weapons on handcuffed suspects was removed from the executive summary. The latest report does not include any specific recommendations on Taser use against handcuffed suspects, a controversial practice that is only against department policy when suspects are rear-cuffed.
Between 2014 and 2017, there were eight reports of complainants who had been handcuffed at the time they were tased, "but these assertions were not verifiable," according to the report. A spokesperson for the CCRB did not say whether the latest iteration of the report was shared with City Hall and the police department ahead of publication.
The CCRB's complaint data appears roughly in line with the department's own statistics on increased Taser use. Of 998 Taser discharge incidents last year, 256 occurred while police were attempting to apprehend someone deemed emotionally disturbed, according to the NYPD's 2018 Use of Force report. The NYPD's figures are not broken out by race.
In total, Tasers were deployed by the NYPD last year at a rate 37 percent higher than in 2017, as another 7,000 officers were trained on the devices.
The report comes as the NYPD faces persistent scrutiny for its treatment of New Yorkers experiencing mental health problems. In the last three years, at least 15 mentally ill people have been killed by NYPD officers, as a plan to improve training for cops approaching those in crisis has suffered from significant delays. A recent initiative from City Hall aimed at reforming how the mentally ill population interacts with the criminal justice system was sharply criticized by advocates as not going far enough.
The new CCRB report does point to some issues with the NYPD's training for officers using Tasers. Police supervisors are instructed in a way that is "in conflict with de-escalation tactics" discussed by the NYPD's crisis intervention team, according to the agency. In executive sessions observed by the oversight agency, they are told that it's appropriate to tase a suspect who is running away—despite official department guidance otherwise.
The report also notes that rank-and-file officers are not given clear examples about when to use the Taser in "drive stun" mode—a setting that officers use "to obtain pain compliance via brief applications." The agency recommends that officers be given additional guidance "regarding what factors to consider" before using the tactic.
A spokesperson for the NYPD did not immediately respond to Gothamist's inquiries.