Civil liberties report finds deadly stun guns abuse by NY police

Reuters News
Posted: Oct 19, 2011 6:33 PM
Civil liberties report finds deadly stun guns abuse by NY police

By Holly McKenna

ALBANY, New York (Reuters) - Police throughout New York state abuse stun guns and have killed more than a dozen people with the weapons in recent years, according to a report released on Wednesday by the New York Civil Liberties Union.

Nationwide, some 16,000 law enforcement agencies, including 350 in New York, use the electroshock weapons, also known as Tasers, the report said. Hundreds of people have been killed by stun guns across the country, including more than a dozen in New York, it said.

The 31-page report, "Taking Tasers Seriously: The Need for Better Regulation of Stun Guns in New York," examined 851 stun gun incident reports from eight police departments across the state, including in Albany, Rochester and Syracuse. It called for stricter use-of-force policies and Taser training.

The analysis shows police officers are using Tasers in an "inappropriate, irresponsible and downright deadly manner," said NYCLU Director Donna Lieberman.

"This disturbing pattern of misuse and abuse endangers lives. Law enforcement agencies that choose to use Tasers must adopt clear and effective policies governing their use."

The U.S. Department of Justice has said Tasers are overused by officers and are overtaking other force alternatives, often resulting in repeated and multiple shocks to victims, the report said.

In the United States, most stun guns deliver 50,000 volts of electricity and are made by Taser International, based in Scottsdale, Arizona with annual revenues of $102 million.

Proponents say Tasers are less lethal than conventional weapons used by police and military forces. Critics claim they are just as deadly.

A 2007 United Nations report found use of electroshock guns is a form of torture and can lead to sudden death. Amnesty International groups worldwide have deemed the devices inhumane and called for moratoriums until safer models can be manufactured.

Chief Steven Krokoff of the Albany Police Department said he had not yet reviewed the report so could not comment.

However, he added: "If it is determined that our current policies regarding the use of the Taser device can be improved then we will take the necessary steps to make that happen."

Krokoff said that in 2010 the Albany Police Department responded to over 152,000 calls for service which resulted in over 6,200 arrests. Of these 152,000 incidents the Taser was deployed 31 times but only made contact in 26.

The report found 40 percent of stun gun incidents analyzed involved at-risk people, including children and the elderly, mentally ill or intoxicated. An overwhelming percentage of people targeted by police using stun guns were minorities, with 58 percent of incidents involving Latinos and blacks.

The report said 15 percent of the incidents involved people already handcuffed or restrained. Another 75 percent involved people not given any verbal warnings despite expert recommendations to do so before Taser use.

(Editing by Barbara Goldberg and Jerry Norton)