Law enforcers stand by Taser usage, policies

September 7, 2009 at 4:32 pm Leave a comment

*published Sept. 7, 2009

A recent incident with an autistic teen has raised questions within the community.
BY VANESSA C. DEGGINS

Despite the controversy surrounding the usage of Tasers and less-than-lethal weapons, many law enforcement agencies stand by the devices.

In a recent incident, a Taser was used on a 14-yearold autistic boy, which has raised questions about the use of the devices.

On Aug. 31, Lake Charles police officers were questioning the boy’s twin brother, who was a suspect in a robbery.

The officers heard someone scream, turned and saw another person coming towards them.

“The officers initially dodged the young man, which caused him to fall on the suspect, who we later determined was his brother,” said Lake Charles Police Sgt. Mark Kraus.

When officers tried to pull the boy off the ground, he reportedly bit one officer and scratched the other in the face.

The autistic boy’s sister later said she screamed at an officer not to use a Taser on him because he was autistic, but he ignored her.

The mother believes the officers were big enough to physically restrain her son and considered the use of the Taser unnecessary force.

“He (the officer) said he did not remember hearing the sister at all, but the entire situation happened very quickly,” Kraus said.

Less-than-lethal option

The use of force is an issue that law enforcers and residents tend to disagree on.

“For us, force is based on reasonableness, totality of the circumstances and the necessity,” said Lt. Frank Adams, who oversees training in the city police department. “Do I have time to use a Taser to stop this threat?”

Most law enforcement agencies in the parish use Tasers and other less-than-lethal weapons that include impact batons and pepper spray.

All officers and deputies are required to be stung by Tasers for five seconds before they are allowed to carry the device.

Adams said that officers very rarely have the option of 20/20 hindsight, especially when they are in a rapidly evolving, uncertain situation.

“Some tend to focus on one single circumstance and say this changes everything,” Adams said. “And it may be a determining factor, but it does not make the whole situation go away.”

Adams said officers have to prepare themselves on the way to any call.

“If that person has a previous violent criminal record, the officer has to consider that he’s less likely to comply,” Adams said.

Adams said over a 10-year period, less-than-lethal weapons have led to a reduction in suspect and officer injuries.

“And that translates to less taxpayers’ dollars going to medical care and worker’s compensation,” Adams said. “We’ve had officers who have had to retire because of injuries from fighting with a suspect.”

He said over a five-year period, fewer than 1 percent of those who were hit by Tasers died as a result of it.

“I just can’t see it as a fair trade to take away the mosteffective less-lethal weapon because of what happened to less than 1 percent of the total,” Adams said.

Dealing with mentally ill

Lt. David Anders with the department’s Crisis Intervention Team, or CIT, addressed the issue of dealing with mentally ill subjects.

CIT-trained officers go through a 40-hour training course which helps them recognize the behaviors people with certain mental illnesses. These officers will make in-thefield decisions over whether subjects they encounter will need to go to the hospital for evaluation instead of jail.

Anders said the program is voluntary, but most patrol officers have been through the training.

“And there are times when a person may be having an episode and you can’t talk to them to calm them down,” Anders said.

Anders said that through the CIT, the city and parish regularly consult with the Southwest Louisiana chapter of the National Alliance on Mental Illness for all training.

“In dealing with the families of the mentally ill, they are not happy that their child was tased, but you stop and look at the options,” Anders said. “Someone could get hurt, have broken bones and, God forbid, we go to deadly force.”

Clarice Raichel, executive director for the Southwest Louisiana chapter, helped craft the CIT training and said the use of a Taser should always be last result after attempts to verbally de-escalate the situation fails.

She expressed her support for the CIT program, citing a big change in law enforcement attitudes and perceptions toward the mentally ill.

“I’m going to suggest a scenario of an encounter with an autistic person for the next round of training,” Raichel said.

Determining use of force

Both the city and parish require officers to fill out useof-force reports for any incident. The report is reviewed by a shift supervisor, who, in most cases, goes to the scene of the incident.

Commander James McGee with the Calcasieu Parish Sheriff’s Office said he also reviews the reports.

Use-of-force techniques vary in levels of force, and there is no set protocol of which type of force the officer has to use first.

“The officer has the training and discretion to use what weapon or type of force they feel that is necessary,” McGee said. “They are the ones that are there with the subject.”

A little history

The Taser, an acronym for Thomas A. Swift Electric Rifle, was invented by NASA scientist Jack Cover in 1970. Tom Swift was the main character of a early 1900s novel series.

The Los Angeles Police Department in 1974 were the first major department to put the device to use, according to the June 2005 issue of the Police Disciplinary Bulletin.

On the Web: To see officers explain and demonstrate different less-than-lethal weapons, CLICK HERE.

link: http://bit.ly/uQBke

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