Taser use in Truckee sparks controversy
TRUCKEE – A Truckee Police Department request to arm its force with more Tasers could get zapped by the Truckee Town Council today.
The council is set to discuss Tasers, the dart-firing electro-shock devices designed to incapacitate suspects via a 50,000 volt shock, at its meeting today. While Tasers are advertised as a nonlethal use-of-force tool for law enforcement personnel, critics, such as human rights organization Amnesty International, have complained about how Tasers have been used and the possibility that Taser shocks have contributed to a number of deaths throughout the country.
Town Councilwoman Beth Ingalls, for one, is concerned with Truckee Police Chief Scott Berry’s request to use $6,000 from $100,000 in Citizens Option for Public Safety money from the state to purchase five Tasers. The department now has two Tasers for its officers.
The additional Tasers would allow the department to outfit every patrol vehicle with the devices, Berry said. That would be important, he said, because in a scenario where an officer might want to use a Taser instead of another use-of-force option, such as a night stick or gun, there generally isn’t time to have a Taser brought in from another location.
Ingalls expressed concern about the police department’s policy in regard to the use of Tasers and the level of training that Truckee offices receive on the subject.
“They have two Tasers already. They’ve used them once in the last two years, and in my opinion if they have more they’ll use them more because they are available,” Ingalls said.
Although the devices are a better alternative to shooting somebody, Ingalls said there are many issues surrounding their use, including deaths of suspects that have been shocked.
“I’m just afraid that we don’t have an adequate policy in place or training in place related to excessive force and the use of Tasers in general,” she said
Ingalls’ concerns, and those of the other council members, were enough to spur Berry to provide the council with a summary of the department’s current policy on Taser use and training, as well as testimonials from other departments that use the devices and attorneys who have handled Taser-related claims against cities.
“I’ve talked to different agencies that have them,” Berry said in a phone interview Tuesday. “I’ve talked to attorneys that represent law enforcement agencies regarding these types of cases and a compensation carrier that handles claims against towns, and they support them for the fact that they … reduce injuries to officers and injuries to suspects.”
Berry said that Tasers provide officers with a nonlethal tool that may be preferable to wrestling with or using a night stick on a hostile suspect. He also pointed to the department’s established guidelines on Taser use and said that Truckee officers are well trained before they are certified to use the department’s existing Tasers.
In addition to the concerns surrounding the use of Tasers and the estimated 74 Taser-related deaths documented by Amnesty International, Ingalls said the issue also comes down to what kind of a police force the citizens of Truckee want to see in town.
“We don’t have a lot of violent crime or violent criminals…” Ingalls said, adding that “I think that a lot of things in the police budget could be directed more toward public safety … and for the better use of the community rather than just acquiring more weapons.”
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