After poring over a decade’s worth of investigations, lawsuits and public records, the ACLU of Arizona is attempting to persuade law enforcement officials in the Grand Canyon State to address their use of Tasers, as detailed in a June 2011 report.
The ACLU examined Taser use relative to other uses of force against criminal suspects, including pepper spray, batons and lethal firearms, against a backdrop of documented Taser policies for 20 law enforcement agencies across Arizona. And Taser opponents are certain to feel vindicated by the results of the analysis, which supports the long-held theory that the availability of Tasers doesn’t dissuade police officers from drawing, and using, their guns.
After three of Maricopa County’s largest police forces – Phoenix, Mesa and Glendale – deployed Tasers agency-wide between 2001 and 2003, data indicates that officers continued to use lethal force against combative subjects just as often as they had before the advent of Tasers. In fact, it was the use of pepper spray and batons that declined, not firearms.
“The information provided by departments thus suggests that Tasers have been deployed in situations where lethal force would not be allowed,” the ACLU reports, “and where less-severe uses of force are available.”
Considering the potentially fatal effects of Tasers, including cardiac arrest and head injuries resulting from Taser-induced falls, police in Maricopa County have apparently increased the risks posed to suspects by resorting to Tasers in lieu of pepper spray and other, less dangerous, options.
In 2004, the Arizona Republic published its own analysis of 377 incidents in which Phoenix police had deployed Tasers. “In nearly nine out of 10 cases,” according to the ACLU, “the subjects had not threatened officers with any weapon before a Taser was used.”
Since then officers have become increasingly Taser-shy, fearing blemishes on their records or potential lawsuits. And while Taser use has declined somewhat as officers return to using batons and pepper spray, the number of gunshots fired has remained virtually unchanged.
Liability concerns, though, haven’t slowed the demand for Tasers. Earlier this year the Arizona Department of Public Safety ordered 1,000 more of the devices from Scottsdale-based TASER International, whose M26 and X26 models are the most popular among Arizona’s law enforcement agencies.
The ACLU report didn’t merely rehash Arizona’s misadventures with Tasers as earlier documented by the Republic, or harp on Maricopa County’s dubious distinction as the nation’s capital of Taser-related deaths. After all, past criticism has done little to spark measurable reform.
“Tasers are often promoted to the public on the ground that they can save lives in situations where police would otherwise use deadly force, however, the information we collected reveals serious issues with the use of Tasers in Arizona, including a lack of adequate training and accountability that endangers the public and could expose the police to expensive lawsuits,” said ACLU of Arizona Executive Director Alessandra Soler Meetze.
Nearly half the agencies surveyed, including the Maricopa County Sheriff’s Office (MCSO), still rely solely on Arizona-based TASER International to train their officers, which is disconcerting due to the company’s prior assertions that Tasers should be used on suspects to achieve “pain compliance.”
“Law enforcement agencies cannot depend on the company to always present the facts about Tasers,” the ACLU of Arizona noted in its report. “After all, it has a product to sell and will continue to be motivated first and foremost by its ‘bottom line.’”
The ACLU also called on police agencies to reposition Tasers “closer to the firearms end” of the use-of-force continuum, and advocated the formation of a “statewide task force to monitor trends in Taser use in Arizona.”
PLN has reported numerous cases involving the use of Tasers on both prisoners and non-prisoners that have resulted in injury or death – and, increasingly, that have resulted in jury awards and settlements against TASER International and law enforcement agencies that rely on the company’s products. [See, e.g.: PLN, Jan. 2012, p.42; Oct. 2011, p.40; Oct. 2006, p.1]. The ACLU report is available on PLN’s website along with extensive other information on Tasers and similar devices.
Sources: “A Force to Be Reckoned With: Taser Use and Policies in 20 Arizona Law Enforcement Agencies,” ACLU of Arizona (June 2011); www.acluaz.org
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