In the midst of national outrage over police shootings of unarmed suspects, the NYPD is buying hundreds of new Tasers in an attempt to open up "a buffer before you have to use a firearm," as the department's chief firearms trainer put it. The Times reports that the department's Taser supply has almost tripled in the past year to 1,710 electric shock weapons. Nearly a third of the force has been trained to use them, and in an interview with paper, NYPD assistant chief Matthew Pontillo stressed that Commissioner Bratton likes that Tasers offer "value in having yet another option in police officers hands' that can be very, very effective."
All of this is proof that Taser's lobbying work and marketing campaigns are working.
Taser, a Scottsdale, Arizona company founded in 1991 by brothers Thomas and Rick Smith, markets its flagship X26 electric weapon as a device that protects both life and truth. Throughout the '90s, the Smith brothers racked up sales contracts with police departments across America by promising that no medical evidence exists that Tasers do any permanent harm.
That marketing pitch has been debunked by both scientific study and live police use. In recent years New York City has seen multiple cases of Taser use resulting in the death of unarmed suspects, and at least one of the cases has resulted in a $25 million lawsuit. Across the country, the Washington Post estimates that one person per week dies after being Tasered by police.
Still, the NYPD isn't just buying more Tasers—it's expecting to use them more often. Restrictions on how many times an officer may stun a person with the weapons' 50,000 volt "cycles" have been lifted; the department only asks that officers bear in mind that more than 15 seconds of shocking a person can lead to cardiac arrest. The Times also points out that in most CCRB incident complaints involving tasers, officers are accused of shocking people already in police custody, repurposing the weapons as a high-voltage billy club. Since late June, only 19 perfect of Taser use involved a suspect armed with any kind of weapon.
Nick Berardini, director of the Taser documentary Killing Them Safely, researched the corporation and its sales tactics for years before concluding that the weapons are packaged with "a shoot first, ask later mentality."
"Instead of relying on de-escalation, police believe that the effects of tasers are inconsequential. It's a mentality that's really dangerous.," Berardini told Gothamist earlier this year. "
"De-escalation is bad for the company's business," the director continued. "But this will be anther case where the taser is responsible for damages. TASER International likes to talk about how they save departments from liability—and that's just not true."