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Utah’s largest police forces use Tasers more than any other weapon

Analysis » Police use Tasers more than any other weapon against unruly suspects.

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"Certainly you need to look at those statistics and determine what types of contacts are we having," Russo said.

He uses that analysis to determine whether there are new strategies, technologies or opportunities to improve his agency "not because we’re doing anything wrong, but we’re always looking to do things better," he said.

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"Every agency needs to be doing that. Nobody should be [sitting back] and believing their policies are sufficient now and forever."

The Taser » During the past three years, Burbank’s officers used Tasers at a similar rate to Unified Police officers, but they used batons seven times more frequently than West Valley City.

Burbank said he is not sure if his department’s numbers reflect an actual strike on a person or simply a deployment of the device — such as using it to gain entry or simply pulling it out of an officer’s belt.

"I question the other numbers that you’ve gotten from other agencies," he said, noting that the baton is considered a lesser use of force than the Taser.

"If you’ve only had one [deployment], why would you bother carrying it?" he asked.

Ultimately, Taser use was a common thread across all three departments.

Salt Lake City had the most Taser deployments, followed closely by Unified Police.

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But it was Unified’s use of the device that increased the most since 2010, more than doubling.

Winder acknowledged his department’s numbers are up but he attributes that to adding more than 100 officers with the addition of Midvale and Taylorsville to the ranks and about 100,000 new residents to the coverage area.

"I don’t think our use has gone up, as much as the volume of reporting by increased officer [numbers]," he said.

Winder said officers in his department use fewer impact weapons — such as batons — and instead rely more heavily on Tasers, which is good from his point of view.

"From my standpoint, 29 years of [policing], it’s a lifesaver," Winder said of the Taser. "It’s superhandy. It reduces the assaults [on officers]. It sure has saved a lot of problems for us and the public.

"It’s significantly reduced our use of K-9. It’s reduced our officer-involved shootings. It’s reduced our officer injuries. Now they’re not having to wrestle suspects. They can just Tase them."

Policies and review » When it comes to regulating Tasers and use of other weapons, The Tribune analysis found the three departments each have similar policies outlining when officer’s can use force against a suspect.

Perhaps the highest level of review comes from the Salt Lake County District Attorney’s Office, which closely scrutinizes each officer-involved shooting.

Since 2010, the three departments have been involved in 24 total shootings. The District Attorney’s Office has found 84 percent — or all but four shootings — to be justified. West Valley City and Salt Lake City each had two unjustified-shooting findings, while Unified was found to be fully justified in every shooting it was involved in. In the unjustified shootings in the past three years, no officers have ever been convicted of criminal wrongdoing.

Salt Lake County District Attorney Sim Gill said Utah law defines certain circumstances in which use of force is justified and implies a review must be conducted. Historically, the district attorney’s office has been tapped to conduct that review.

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