Md. task force suggests limiting use of Tasers
Police officers in Maryland should only be permitted to use Tasers on someone when that person's actions pose an imminent theat of physical harm to themselves or others, according to a report released Thursday by the Maryland Attorney General's Task Force on Electronic Weapons.
According to the report, law enforcement agencies in Maryland do not have a uniform policy regarding when Tasers -- which typically emit a 50,000-volt, low-current electrical jolt -- should be used by officers.
The report found that the most commonly applied standard among police agencies surveyed permitted the use of Tasers against people who either pose a physical threat to the officer or others, or who is "actively resisting" officers, a definiation which includes actions such as "bracing" or "tensing one's arms to avoid being placed in handcuffs -- even if the person is otherwise unthreatening," according to the report.
Some law enforcement agencies had even more permissive policies regarding the use of Tasers, the report found. Policies are often vague, the task force found. For example, some law enforcement agencies allow their officers to use Tasers "to safely effect an arrest" and "to control the situation."
The task force was formed by Attorney General Douglas F. Gansler to study the safety and efficacy of Tasers, which are used by law enforcement agencies statewide. The task force, which included law enforcement officials, civil rights advocates, attorneys, a physician, and the immediate past president of the Mental Health Association of Maryland, held a series of public hearings statewide.
Law enforcement officers said the Tasers are a safe tool that is effective in ending tense encounters with agitated people. Civil rights advocates and others said Tasers are potentially lethal weapons that pose a particular risk to the very old, the very young, people with heart conditions, and people who suffer from mental illness.
During a hearing in Riverdale Park last April, June White Dillard, president of the Prince George's County chapter of the NAACP, noted that five people died in Maryland in 2007 after being Tasered by police.
The task force report also recommends that crisis intervention teams should be deployed to try to de-escalate tensions with agitated suspects before police resort to using Tasers.
If de-esclation techniques are not effective or available, police should consider using other methods of restraining such people without using a Taser, the report recommends.
-- Ruben Castaneda
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