Tasers, or "Conducted Energy Devices," are an increasingly popular method of "non-lethal" force in police departments across New York State, as well as being trusted companions at the ballgame. However, according to a new report [pdf] from the NYCLU, "police officers are using Tasers in inappropriate, irresponsible and downright deadly manner." As the saying goes: shoot 50,000 volts of electricity into somebody's chest first, ask questions later.
Studying 851 Taser incidents from eight police department across the state (including the NYPD), 60% of those cases did not meet the expert-recommended standards that restrict the use of a Taser to "situations where officers can document active aggression or a risk of physical injury." 40% of the incidents involved "at-risk subjects" like the elderly, children, the visibly infirm, or those who were seriously intoxicated or mentally ill.
It also appears that Taser's aren't colorblind: 58% of all Taser incidents in the state involved black or Latino suspects. And in 75% of the occurrences, no warning was reported. In half of the surveyed jurisdictions, no verbal warning is required before an officer uses his Taser gun.
The NYCLU recommends that the "state must reform use-of-force policies and Taser training programs," and "require accurate, complete reporting and robust monitoring of Taser use." Taser spokesman Steve Tuttle tells us that although his company doesn't have a specific set of mandatory policies requiring police departments to undergo training, he points to their "world class" training programs that delegates from departments attend to teach their colleagues. "If the ACLU is trying to improve training and reinforce training and clear policies, they're absolutely right."
Tuttle says that when an officer is deploying a Taser, ideally they should "split the belt" and have the bottom prong strike below the waistline, as there are more nerve endings and muscle tissue there. The rib cage is the Taser gun's "Achilles heel," and "a lot of folks don't go down after being hit in their rib cage." Asked if he feels the shock from 50,000 volts to be painful, he says, "I don't find it painful, but it's certainly disconcerting."
Here's a video of some disconcerted suspects.