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SLC adopts stricter Taser guidelines

Published January 4, 2006 12:27 am

Shocks: A suspect must now 'aggressively resist or attempt to flee' before use of the tool is authorized
This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2006, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.

Salt Lake City police officers can continue to use Tasers, though under stricter guidelines unveiled Tuesday by Mayor Rocky Anderson.

Anderson rejected requests from the American Civil Liberties Union and Amnesty International to allow Tasers only in lieu of deadly force. Instead, the mayor maintained the police department's current policy of deploying Tasers as an intermediate-force device - on the same level as batons.

But the mayor refined the circumstances when Tasers are appropriate. Instead of allowing officers to use Tasers on a "dangerous or violent subject" who "communicates" his or her resistance, opposition or attempt to flee, Anderson permitted officers to use the electric volts when a "dangerous or violent subject aggressively resists or attempts to flee."

"I don't think it's appropriate to use a Taser because somebody is verbally expressing their opposition," Anderson said Tuesday. "That gives a lot of latitude. Somebody could be lipping off to a police officer and that might be construed as verbally opposing or resisting."

Anderson also forbade multiple officers from using Tasers on one individual at a time and imposed a restriction on the repeated use of a Taser on an individual. To get a second cycle of the 50,000 volts of electricity, the subject must continue to aggressively resist or attempt to flee.

Dani Eyer, executive director of the Utah chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union, commended the city for seriously studying Tasers and called the policy one of the country's more thoughtful and comprehensive.

But the ACLU does not endorse it.

"The weapons should only be used in life-threatening situations, given the increasing number of Taser-related deaths and lack of independent medical studies," she said.

The mayor, a former civil-rights attorney, decided to review the Taser policy after reading a newsletter outlining problems with the devices published by Amnesty International, of which he is a member.

During the summer, the mayor convened a panel including the ACLU, Amnesty International, police officers and others.

While Anderson agrees more research needs to be done on Tasers, he said using the tools in lieu of deadly force won't work. Sometimes Tasers don't deploy properly and wouldn't stop a deadly suspect, he said.

"If somebody was coming at me with a gun and lethal force is justified, I'm not sure I'd be confident enough in a Taser to solely depend on that," he said.

In general, the new policy requires officers be certified to use Tasers and get re-certified annually. It allows Taser use on people who are suicidal and on dangerous animals. They cannot be used as a means of coercion or punishment. And "unless deadly force is warranted," officers cannot intentionally deploy Tasers on the head, neck or genitals. The policy also forbids their use on women who are pregnant.

Assistant Chief Chris Burbank said Tasers can save lives, de-escalating a violent situation and, thereby, making lethal force unnecessary.

Sen. Scott McCoy, D-Salt Lake City, a member of the Taser panel and the Police Civilian Review Board, which scrutinizes allegations of excessive police force, said the board has reviewed one Taser-related case and cleared the officer.

"I trust that the police force will be trained properly [on Taser use]," he said. "At the same time, the Police Civilian Review Board is there to act as a review, as a safeguard. If we start to see a pattern of misuse, we'll shine a light on that."

hmay@sltrib.com

More Tasers on the street

There will be more Tasers on Salt Lake City streets this summer.

Assistant Chief Chris Burbank said the department plans to give all of its 140 patrol officers Tasers. Currently, only the SWAT team has them.

For more on the city's Taser policy, go to http://www.sltrib.com.