The following editorial first appeared in the Lincoln Journal Star.
Some Nebraska law enforcement agencies clearly need to provide better training on the use of Tasers.
Perhaps the most obvious misuse of a Taser was the incident in which a drunken man was stunned with a Taser in a hospital bed by a Grand Island police officer.
In the narrative portion of the police report the officer said, “(Redacted) was very drunk and being noncompliant. When told to sit back in the hospital bed he refused and when I tried to grab ahold of him he pulled away. After being informed that if he didn’t comply he would be Tasered he again pulled away and stated (deleted) you. A drive stun gun without the cartridge was administered to his left pectoral area.”
The case was one of several cited in a report by the American Civil Liberties of Nebraska as one of the instances in which the devices, which administer electrical shocks, were “grossly misused.”
Federal guidelines say, “Agencies’ policy and training should discourage the use of the drive stun mode as a pain compliance technique.”
There’s no doubt that Tasers, or “electronic control weapons,” are a popular and effective police tool. They deliver about 50,000 volts that temporarily disable by causing involuntary muscle contractions. A federal study showed that use of Tasers actually reduced the rate of injuries sustained by both suspects and officers.
Use of Tasers, however, has been linked to deaths. Amnesty International reports 540 Taser-related deaths. The 2011 U.S. Justice Department study reported more than 200. Some medical experts say the shocks can disrupt electrical signals to the heart and cause cardiac arrest. In addition, suspects can also be injured when they fall as a result of being stunned.
Federal guidelines say risks of Taser use can be reduced by not administering continuous or repeated shocks.
It’s disappointing that both the Lincoln and Omaha police department were not forthcoming in providing information on the use of Tasers.
An agency might be justified in withholding reports on active cases, but the excuse shouldn’t be used as an excuse for withholding all information, including departmental policy on use of the weapons. LPD has also refused a Journal Star request for information on the 39 times Tasers were used by Lincoln officers from Jan. 1, 2013, to May 20, 2014, although the department does occasionally provide information on their use in some cases.
Lincoln police Chief Jim Peschong says that Lincoln officers “certainly don’t use Tasers just to garner compliance.”
However, the ACLU said that most of the law enforcement policies it was allowed to review do not meet U.S. Justice Department guidelines. It’s time for law enforcement agencies in Nebraska to catch up.