The use of Tasers by police has been controversial in communities nationwide after isolated deaths and reports of misuse. In Connecticut, lawmakers have approved a bill that would make it the first state in the country to require police to report how the weapons are being used.
The bill passed on the final day of the legislative session, but it wasn't the first time it's been before lawmakers. David McGuire, a staff attorney with the ACLU of Connecticut, said the bill has been introduced in three legislative sessions, but it was the recent story of an East Hartford man who died after being Tasered that galvanized lawmakers to approve the legislation this time around. McGuire said, "It's this kind of transparency that will allow the public to truly understand how Tasers are being used and I believe it will cut down on police misconduct and be a very, very positive thing."
Starting January 1, 2015, the legislation would require each police department to have a specific policy on Taser use, and that police officers document each time a Taser is used.
McGuire said the data would include the race and gender of the person who was Tasered, as well as the number of times police activated the weapon. He stressed that most police use the weapons correctly.
Law enforcement stated that Tasering is a non-lethal way to de-escalate a situation. McGuire said it's the incidents of misuse that cause the greatest concern. "We've seen children [Tasered]; people in mental health crisis; people that are handcuffed. Seventy-one percent of the people that have died after being [Tasered] in Connecticut were Black or Hispanic. So there are real issues we hope to get at on a more precise level with this data reporting."
The ACLU said that since 2005, there have been at least 14 deaths in the state after police used Tasers. The group believes the potential law would have two benefits: it would prevent police misconduct, and help departments defend against false allegations.
The NAACP and the General Assembly's Black and Puerto Rican caucus strongly supported the measure. The bill still needs the governor's signature before it becomes law.