Friday, June 27, 2008

Some NYC Taser History

I've been meaning to comment on this NY Times piece, but hadn't gotten to it. For all of its love of Police Commissioner Kelly, it has some interesting history in it. Some relevant paragraphs:

Stun guns were introduced in New York in the early 1980s, when officers were confronting a higher number of disturbed people because of the rapid and widespread deinstitutionalization of mental health patients. The devices were not seen as a success.

The technology had not been perfected and the devices were kept mostly in Emergency Service Unit officers’ trucks. Several high-ranking officers and sergeants were transferred from the 106th Precinct in Queens after officers were charged with using stun guns on drug suspects during interrogations. Mr. Kelly was assigned by Commissioner Benjamin Ward to clean things up.

Perhaps spurred by memories of that scandal, Mr. Kelly added a cautionary line to the new rules of engagement for the Taser. The order, published on June 4, said that putting a Taser directly against someone’s body should not be the primary method of use and that such cases of “touch-stun mode” would be investigated.

How about Mr. Kelly stating that stun mode won't be used, rather than should not be used.

And what about oversight of the NYPD's use of tasers? I've been able to find very little about that and this article offers only a hint of information:

In 2007, 41 people complained of being struck with a Taser by officers and 9 said they had been confronted by officers brandishing one, according to Andrew Case, a spokesman for the city’s Civilian Complaint Review Board, which investigates allegations of wrongdoing by officers. Of those complaints, one was substantiated, he said.

So far this year, the board has received 17 complaints from people who said they were struck with a Taser by officers and 6 from those who said they were confronted by them, Mr. Case said. None of the 2008 cases have been fully investigated yet; eight have been closed because the victim refused to provide a statement, one has been withdrawn, and the others remain open.

Two disturbing paragraphs contain a statement from the NY chapter of the ACLU:

Christopher T. Dunn, the associate legal director of the New York Civil Liberties Union, said the concern now is whether officers will use Tasers in situations where they traditionally had used much less force, and whether civilians will be unnecessarily and more frequently subjected to their use.

“Is it actually an alternative that leads to reduced use of firearms by the police?” Mr. Dunn said. “Or does it lead to increased use of force? The concern is we are going up the ladder of force, as opposed to coming down the ladder.”

Mr. Dunn, those aren't really points of contention anymore. The questions have been answered. Tasers don't reduce firearm usage and they are too high in the continuum of force. See various links to the left and right of this post. They're filled with answers to those questions.

Finally, and this may just be a pet peeve of mine, but NY Times can you please leave your crushes out of your reporting? What is with this bit (emphasis mine):

Tasers came under a new spotlight as the image of a square-jawed Mr. Kelly holding a stun gun was beamed across the media landscape on Monday and Tuesday, and as news spread that the nation’s largest police force was taking a fresh look at the device. At the same time, a sea of controversial Taser headlines seemed to crop up.