TASERS CONTINUE CAUSING STATIC
Nearly two years since their introduction into the Portland Police Bureau's arsenal, Tasers continue to
concerns in the community and around the country over their possible misuse and, perhaps, deadly
Local, National Attention to Electroshock Devices Extends Debate
Local Willamette Week reporter Nick Budnick wrote several stories, including the front-page
article "Is the
PPB Going Taser Crazy?", beginning in the February 4 issue. Budnick allowed himself to be hit with
one of the
electroshock devices, experiencing 50,000 volts for only one second, not the normal cycle of five
prompting him to describe the Taser as "torturous." Budnick pointed out that the Portland
policy allows for Tasers
to be used on people who "'display the intent to engage in violent, aggressive actions,' are suicidal,
or 'display the
intent to engage in physical resistance to a lawful police action'" (from Directive 1051.00). This is
contrary to the
reason Tasers were brought to Portland in the first place--as an alternative to deadly force. In other
than training officers to use Tasers in place of a gun, the PPB is training to use them as the equivalent
spray, batons, or body blows.
Budnick explains that in Phoenix, where deadly shootings apparently have been reduced dramatically,
not allowed to be used for "coercion" or "intimidation." In Portland, however, police have been using
exert their power over citizens. They are proud of the fact that out of the 447 uses of the Taser in its
first 18 months, 64 times officers simply pointed the laser sight at a suspect. But is this how we want
policing to work? How does a person know it is not a real gun being pointed at them? And would it
appropriate to point a gun at the suspect in each of these 64 cases?
In a follow-up article on February 18, Willamette Week says that at least 25 people were
Tasered after they
were in handcuffs, mostly with the device used as a stun gun (as opposed to firing its fish-hook barbs
up to 21
feet) and in response to low-level resistance from suspects like stiffening up. There have been at least
Taserings of people's groins in Portland, a tactic forbidden in Phoenix.
Meanwhile, Tasers are getting national scrutiny as well. Portland Copwatch has received calls from
Florida, the Charleston (SC) Post and Courier and the New York Times, all doing
articles about Tasers. The
Times, in its March 7 article, raised questions about the growing number of deaths in Taser-
(the February 11 Willamette Week puts that number at 37). The Times specifically cites the
William Lomax, 26, in Las Vegas in February, where witnesses and the police say Lomax collapsed
Tasered him four or five times.
The ACLU of Colorado released a 10-page memo on February 26, including information on 29 of
deaths from 2001-2003. They cite a 1992 report by Dr. Terence B. Allen regarding a Taser-related
death in Los
Angeles in which he wrote "death was an immediate and direct result of the taser.... Pre-existing
psychosis, and the use of drugs including cocaine, PCP, amphetamine and alcohol may substantially
risk of fatality." They note that in addition to L.A., medical examiners in Orlando, FL, and
Wallen's Ridge, VA
cited the use of a Taser as a contributing factor in deaths in each of those cities. The ACLU also cites
Department of Justice report that concludes Tasers may contribute to death even if they are not the
Officers who voluntarily receive shocks, as did reporter Budnick, only receive one-half to one second
which manufacturer Taser International admits is a "tremendous difference" from a full five-
second pulse. The
ACLU describes the result of a full blast as "immediate, overwhelming, and excruciating pain"
which maybe more
than necessary to get a suspect to cooperate with police.
The ACLU's memo requests that the Denver Police Department (DPD) revise its policies on Tasers
to restrict use
to only cases in which the use of firearms would be justified. They also request that, as in the UK,
chiefs adopted that restrictive policy, the DPD record every use of Tasers, including the "drawing
device...whether or not this is accompanied by a verbal warning, sparking of the device or placing of
the taser sight
red dot onto a subject."
The Portland Police are currently reviewing their policy on Tasers.
If you have input, contact Chief Foxworth's office at 503-823-0000. He may actually respond if your
sent in writing to 1111 SW 2nd, Portland, OR 97204.