The police are less shocking than they used to be. There’s a new taser policy in town.
Three years ago, the Takoma Park police fully armed themselves with 16 new tasers purchased with federal grant money. Nary a councilmember’s eye blinked, though one citizen raised objections at the city council meeting.
The controversy over tasers has increased since then. There have been deaths involving tasers, one of them in nearby Frederick, MD, cases of misuse – many documented on YouTube, and new guidelines from taser manufacturer Taser International that recommend avoiding chest shots. Amnesty International has condemned taser use, saying that rather than using tasers as non-deadly alternatives to firearms, police were using them for “pain compliance” (Chief Ronald Ricucci said Takoma Park police do not use tasers for pain compliance).
So, second thoughts about tasers have been bouncing around lawmakers brains everywhere. Canada curtailed Canadian Mountie taser use in 2008, for example.
Last year the Maryland General Assembly passed a bill requiring training for all taser-toting officers in the state. The new law says that classroom instruction has to include lessons in judgment and decision making, legal considerations, physiological and psychological side effects, and individuals with elevated risk.
Legislators used the 2009 Maryland Attorney General’s Task Force Report on Electronic Weapons as a guide. That report made 60 recommendations for police officers to follow. The city police force already follows 51 of them, Chief Ricucci said, making the city one of the most compliant cities in the state, if not THE most compliant.
In the report, Ricucci says city police now meet the new requirements. They have certified instructors in taser use and all officers have been through required training.
Chief Ricucci told the council that he ran the Takoma Park taser policy past city resident Christy E. Lopez. Ms Lopez, a lawyer and member of the Chief’s Advisory Board, coincidentally served on the Maryland Attorney General’s Task Force Report on Electronic Weapons. The chief said that Ms. Lopez made a few suggestions and comments which were incorporated in the latest version submitted to the council.
The chief said that tasers are second only to firearms as far as the police are concerned. They are used as a next-to-last resort in situations that could potentially lead to serious injury or worse. The council reviews the case every time a taser is discharged in the line of duty. The report says there were 19 taserings from 2008, when the force was fully armed with tasers, to mid-2010. None of the taser uses resulted in “lasting effects or serious injury” according to the chief.