A recent Austin American Statesman investigation shows that in 2011, the Austin police force used Tasers, or electric stun guns, 476 times. That number is more than double the number of times that Tasers were used by the department in 2008 and significantly larger than cities with comparable population sizes and police forces.
The rise in Taser usage is due mostly to a 2008 change in departmental policy which now allows officers to discharge stun guns at fleeing suspects. This new policy sets Austin apart from a number of other cities with stricter guidelines for stun gun usage. Fort Worth’s police department, for instance, maintains that stun guns cannot be used on fleeing suspects unless the suspect appears to be dangerous. The Fort Worth police force which is roughly the same size as the Austin Police Department, used stun guns only 225 times in 2011-half of the APD’s usage.
Stun guns have received criticism over the past decade due to a scattering of deaths and injuries related to the weapons. In Austin alone, two suspects have died in stun gun incidents though neither of the deaths were blamed on the guns themselves. There has also been concern that the guns encourage use of excessive force. One man in Lubbock, for instance, was tasered 10 times even while handcuffed to a hospital bed. Similarly, a 24-year old man in Fort Worth died after being tasered for about a minute.
Police Chief Art Acevedo still supports the APD policy, however, citing statistics that reveal fewer injuries to Austin suspects and officers in 2011 than 2008. There have been more violent clashes between suspects and officers in recent years but those confrontations, says Acevedo, are due mostly to the poor economic climate and general societal unrest. Moreover, the APD monitors its Taser usage extensively. Each time a Taser is deployed by an officer a supervisor must go to the scene of the incident, interview witnesses and make sure that the situation warranted Taser usage. Just this past month Chief Acevedo actually suspended an officer who tasered a handcuffed woman attempting to flee the scene.
The debate about Tasers is far from over. Tasers are still a murky area of law enforcement and no Taser policy is perfect. If you have been injured in a tasering incident you may be entitled to compensation. For more information on Taser cases and your rights in tasering incidents call or contact the Kyle Law Firm today.