Local News

Coalition Calls for Stricter Taser Regulations

Posted April 10, 2008

— Stricter guidelines are needed to regulate law enforcement use of Tasers, a coalition representing vulnerable adults and children said Thursday.

The North Carolina Taser Safety Project said sheriff’s offices need to take the lead to adopt proper safety standards for Taser use to protect the public as well as deputies who use the devices.

“We call on law enforcement to exercise restraint in these situations and to use safer means to put people under arrest,” said Jennifer Rudinger, of American Civil Liberties Union of North Carolina. The ACLU is a member of the coalition.

Since 2006, at least 10 people have died in the state after being shot with a Taser.

The purchase and use of the devices are exempt from regulatory oversight, which is required of firearms, the group said. There are also no state or federal legislations on Tasers.

Each agency develops its own Taser guidelines.

“The sheriff is elected in that county. The sheriff is close to the people in that county. They’re best suited to make that decision,” said Eddie Caldwell Jr., of the North Carolina Sheriff’s Association.

The coalition calls for policies that clearly define situations for appropriate firing of the device, as well as the circumstances in which Taser use is limited or prohibited. The group wants policies to address the use of the weapon in consideration of health concerns, with use being limited against children, pregnant women, senior citizens and people with disabilities.

The group also wants policies amended to address situations in which Taser use has increased the risk of injury, restricting multiple firings and use against passive resisters, people in elevated areas, restrained individuals and people in the presence of flammables.

Richard McKinnon, of Cumberland County, died as a result of burns he sustained after being tased near flammable materials in 2005. After being pulled over by deputies for a broken tail-light, McKinnon led police on a chase, crashed, and got soaked with gasoline he had in the front seat.

Deputies say McKinnon resisted arrest. They used a Taser on him, and his clothing burst into flames. Months later, he died from the burns.

“When Richard was tased, we understand that he was trying to get away from the Taser,” said Deborah Hayes Black, McKinnon’s niece.

A study by the group showed that 72 of the state’s 100 sheriff’s offices use Tasers.

The survey looked at restrictions of using the devices on pregnant women, children, the elderly, persons with disabilities, suspects who were passively resisting and suspects already in handcuffs or shackles. The majorities of sheriff’s offices nationwide prohibit the use of Tasers on these groups or restrict their use to the most extreme of circumstances.

Nationally, 82 percent of sheriffs restrict the use of Tasers against obviously pregnant women. North Carolina is behind the national average with nearly 43 percent of Taser-using counties reporting restrictions on use against pregnant women. The remaining 57 percent permit use of Tasers on pregnant women.

Sixty-four percent of Taser-deploying counties in the state permit the use of Tasers against minors and the elderly. As of fall 2007, 36 percent of counties had restrictions on Taser use against the groups.

According to the survey, only one county in the state restricts the use of Tasers against persons with mental illness.

In addition, the group analyzed whether policies were placed on multiple tasings, the use of Tasers against suspects operating a vehicle, on a suspect standing in an elevated position, and in the present of flammable materials. These policies are used nationwide by many law enforcement.

The survey showed only 18 percent of Taser-using counties reported in 2007 that they restricted or prohibited the use of the devices on passive resisters, people who did not forcibly try to resist officers.

Most sheriffs offices in the state do not place restrictions on the number of repeated times a Taser may be deployed against a person. In North Carolina at least three of the six people who died in 2006-07 in the course of TASER-proximate arrests were fired upon multiple times, the group said.

The state trails the nationwide average of 91 percent of sheriffs’ offices that explicitly prohibit the use of Tasers around flammables. In North Carolina 61 percent of counties that use Tasers reported similar policies in 2007.

The coalition praised 13 counties for adopting stricter policies in recent months. Those counties, include Wilson, Wayne, Edgecome and Sampson.

The N.C. Taser Safety Project, founded last year, is a coalition of concerned groups who serve the state’s vulnerable populations, including children, elderly and people with mental and physical disabilities.

Taser International, which manufactures the stun guns, report that the weapons are in use more than 11,000 law enforcement agencies nationwide.

Tasers, invented in 1969, deliver a high-voltage, low-current electrical shock to temporarily paralyze a person by causing an electrical interruption of body’s normal energy pulses. The devises were made more powerful in 1990s and marketed to law enforcement.

18 Comments

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  • ridgerunner Apr 11, 2:29 p.m.

    Fill the beanbags with buck shot and forget the taser.

  • MajorLeagueinfidel Apr 11, 12:17 p.m.

    Yeah... tackling them is a much safer means of control...A 200 pound officer football tackling someone onto the asphalt or cement is certainly a safe alternative....

    And yeah bean bag rounds fired from shotgun certainly wouldn't break ribs, bruise lungs or cause any internal injuries...an officer could simply keep firing them at a suspect until they just handcuffed themselves. The beanbag rounds were popular with police until a couple years ago...yeah.. shoot one at somebody and have them duck and take one in the face...the ACLU was loving that technology and hence the beanbag rounds went the route of pepper spray on the ACLU hit list.

  • Travised Apr 11, 11:34 a.m.

    I seriously hope the Enforcement Industry takes this seriously. I see them using the Taser's as a tool of ease, so they don't have to come close to the subject in question. At times this has caused the subject injury even death. What happened to good old fashion restraining methods, or football techniques that are ALLOWED to be used. I can see not using them on some drug crazed person, or weapon wielding suspect.

    I have to say my primary worry for the device is potential neurological damage, as death has been caused in cases already

    Are the "bean bag" tools the industry uses for crowd control only? Of has Law Enforcement yet to go that direction. That have 12 gauge shells that will deploy mini bean bags for example, so the larger size isn't needed to carry along.

  • MajorLeagueinfidel Apr 11, 8:32 a.m.

    The ACLU years ago cried foul against the use of Pepper Spray and the In-custody RELATED deaths....so Law Enforcement goes to the TASER device and Pepper Spray incidents plummetted...now the ACLU is asking for measures (pepper spray) other than TASER be considered...They are quite simply chasing their own tails.....TASER company guidelines and training recommend no use on pregnant females, people in proximity to flammables or people subject to elevated fall risk (stairwells), every officer using TASERS know this...the thing is situations on the street are fluid..do you TASER a pregnant female holding a knife to her chest or do you let her kill her-self? The officer is subject to ridicule and second-guessing no matter the choice.

  • lizard Apr 11, 7:31 a.m.

    No one has ever died from the taser's use. They have always died after the use. There is a difference. Suspects die after you chase them around the block also. We supposed to stop that too?

  • happymom Apr 10, 8:36 p.m.

    "Everybody that has been tased made the choice to get tased. They could have complied with the officer's commands and not gotten tased."

    psychobabble

    Not exactly. There have been plenty of cases in which tasers were used inappropriately. Tasers were supposed to be a better option than using a GUN or CLUB. Instead, what we have is a substantial number of cases in which officers are using the Taser as retaliation or punishment, or just for the plain fun or meeanness of it.

    Tasers have also become the technique of choice for controlling people. They were never meant to be that. There are other options that should be used FIRST.

  • clintoflannagan Apr 10, 8:34 p.m.

    I completely agree that the best way to avoid getting tazed is to cooperate with the cops. However, I've seen several videos where cops used tazers literally within seconds of pulling people for minor traffic offenses. Granted, in some the drivers weren't exactly being polite. But I don't think anyone who is being candid about the issue believes that a cop should be able to taze someone because they are being rude.

    With that said, it's a classic example of a few bad cops bringing bad attention on the whole group, most of which are excellent and professional. I have a feeling that most cops wouldn't disagree with proposed guidelines put on the use of tazers. Most cops would probably say "those are basically the guidelines we use already."

  • An Alternative Apr 10, 7:37 p.m.

    Tazers... Generally, if a person doesn't go against the law, then they won't get tazed. It is as simple as that. On the other hand though, certain precautions should be exercised. For example, you don't set current to a man soaked in gasoline. Obviously the current could spark and cause combustion, which is what happened. Precautions should be exercised against using the taser on the elderly, who might have electronic pacemakers that the electric discharge could disrupt, and the pregnant, for the protection of the unborn baby inside of the woman. Other than that though, regulation of the tazer would be going overboard.

  • oftenbad Apr 10, 6:57 p.m.

    Again...it's the cops fault. Lets see...ways not to get tasered. Don't smoke crack, and then fight with officers...hmmmm good idea. Don't run from the cops in a car, when used to elude police is considered a deadly weapon. Then when the gas can that is in your car spills on you because you wrecked....because you were running from the police, don't fight the police!

    Blame cops for killing people by tasers, blame probation officers for not being able to predict when homicides are going to occur....BLAME BLAME BLAME. Take responsibility people. Abide by the laws!!!!!!

  • moreupset Apr 10, 6:53 p.m.

    There is a solution to the taser! Leave the taser behind. Strap on a 45 with plenty of ammo.

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