Advocacy Groups Want to Know When and How Police Use Tasers

Apr 15, 2014

Credit TASER International

The American Civil Liberties Union of Connecticut is calling for statewide regulations and clear policies on how the police use Tasers.

This comes after several people have died in recent years after the police hit them with tasers; the ACLU counted 14 since 2005. The most recent case happened last weekend: East Hartford police subdued a 22-year man with a stun gun, and he later died.

There have been others, said David McGuire, staff attorney with the ACLU in Connecticut. "One person in Middletown, for example, was tased 34 times and ultimately died," McGuire said. "People were handcuffed and tased, people were in the back of a squad car and tased and later passed away, so there are circumstances where these deaths could have been prevented."

During a press conference on Tuesday, McGuire was asked to identify the East Hartford Police Department's taser policy. He said that is the heart of the problem: it's not clear when the police will use a taser. In New Jersey for example, the police can only use a taser to prevent death or serious injuries to the person in question and other people, and to prevent the escape of a violent offender.

McGuire said tasers are different from pepper spray or batons in that people can actually be killed. Lt. J Paul Vance, public information officer for the Connecticut State Police, disagreed. "You've got to look at the whole big picture," Vance said. "There have been times when people being restrained physically in other parts of the country, but have died in the hands of law enforcement, because of complications."

Vance said officers are trained to use just the amount of force that is necessary. He emphasized that every time an officer uses force, it's thoroughly examined afterwards, then independently reviewed by the state's attorney's office.

David McGuire of the ACLU noted the state police has not had public incidents of taser misuse, which is good. In recent years, some people have sued local police over the use of tasers, the most recent being a case this January, when a man from Hamden sued the local police after he was allegedly hit with a taser during an epileptic seizure.

"There are circumstances where these deaths could have been prevented."
David McGuire

If police officers already report the cases when they had to use a taser, then making that information public shouldn't be too hard, said McGuire.

The Connecticut ACLU has pushed for legislation calling for more reporting and training for taser use in the past, most recently last year, but those bills didn't pass. It's not just the ACLU either, McGuire said, he referred to guidelines from the Police Executive Research Forum and the Department of Justice recommending comprehensive taser training, and periodic analyses of taser use and trends, among other things.

McGuire pointed to Illinois as one example of what to do. That state recently enacted a law saying the police needs to be trained in the use of tasers. The officers are also subject to random inspections to make sure the training actually happens. The law went into effect this January.