- Memo to City Council Opposing Proposed Purchase of Additional Tasers
TO: Minneapolis City Council PS&RS Committee Members
FROM: Communities United Against Police Brutality
SUBJECT: Proposed purchase of additional Tasers
DATE: May 2, 2007
During its May 2, 2007 meeting, the Minneapolis City Council PS&RS Committee will hear a report from the Minneapolis Police Department (MPD) on their use of Tasers, with the request to spend $862,000 over two years on additional Taser units.
Throughout it’s report, the MPD juxtaposes various statistics to imply causation when none is proven and makes exaggerated claims. We write to challenge these claims and set the record straight.
Claim #1: Despite 75.7% increase in Taser use in 2006, “citizen complaints from Taser use are almost nonexistent” and that no complaints related to Tasers were made to IAU and only three to CRA and that, “no discipline was issued in any of these incidents.”
This claim implies a causal relationship between increased Taser use and a lack of community member complaints to IAU and CRA. No other reasons for a lack of complaints are considered.
CUAPB receives frequent complaints of inappropriate Taser usage, including many incidents involving use on subdued, handcuffed suspects. Some incidents involve Taser use in retaliation for speech or “attitude.” The fact of these complaints coming to CUAPB indicates that community members are concerned about Taser use.
The noted lack of discipline issued for Taser incidents may prove to be causal for the lack of complaints. There is a widespread perception by the community that complaints to both Internal Affairs Unit (IAU) and the Civilian Review Authority (CRA) are futile. This may explain why CUAPB receives more complaints from community members than both the CRA and IAU combined. Moreover, the community believes—with some evidence to support this belief—complaints to IAU may result in retaliation. We would suggest that these beliefs are more likely the cause for a lack of citizen complaints regarding Taser injuries, rather than any lack of injuries or concerns over inappropriate use of force with this weapon.
Claim #2: Taser use results in injuries in 5.8% of cases as opposed to a 43% injury rate with traditional force.
The methods used to track and compile this data are not shared; therefore, it is difficult to evaluate this claim. The MPD historically underreports injuries to suspects caused by use of force and frequently fails to provide medical attention to those who request it. Although the Minneapolis City Council adopted recommendations by the CRA requiring provision of medical care to all individuals subjected to Taser use, and despite the fact that this is required by the MPD Taser policy, CUAPB has documented a number of cases in which medical care was not provided to subjects who received Taser shocks. This not only represents a policy violation but contributes to a lack of credible data on Taser injury rates.
CUAPB has documented cases of Taser injury beyond superficial wounds—involving deliberate Taser drive-stun application on the throat, back of the neck at the base of the head, on the sternal region directly over the heart, in multiple locations on the face, on the genitalia and in other areas where such application is contraindicated by the manufacturer and in violation of MPD policy. It is unlikely that these cases were included in any injury tracking data.
Claim #3: Taser use has only resulted in one lawsuit, with a settlement of $35,000.
As a practical matter lawsuits can take a number of years to work through the court systems. A claim that only one lawsuit related to Tasers has been adjudicated since 2003 is disingenuous. Since MPD use of Tasers has become widespread only in the last year, any liability suits from this use are likely still being developed and filed.
Many municipalities have seen significant increases in liability exposure from Taser use, with a number of law enforcement agencies in California, Georgia, Ohio, Illinois, Indiana, Alabama and North Carolina discontinuing use of Tasers. Most notably, the City of Chicago ceased use of Tasers in 2005 after a teen developed near-fatal ventricular fibrillation directly attributable to Taser shock.
As James Gringer, a Virginia police consultant and monitor for police department reforms for the US Department of Justice, says, “Cities where Tasers are used for compliance purposes are vulnerable to expensive lawsuits. We’ve had enough incidents in the past to know that [Tasers] are potentially lethal. If it can be proved that a police agency knew [Taser] had the potential to take a life,…then a court could hold police liable.”
Claim #4: Taser use is safe, based on citation of Ho studies.
While we do not question the motivation of Dr. Jeffrey Ho in conducting his studies, a number of other credible, peer-reviewed studies have produced disturbing results that differ drastically from Dr. Ho’s findings. Further, there have been rulings by medical examiners attributing deaths to Taser shocks. One of the issues in Dr. Ho’s research is that Taser effects were studied on resting patients. This is not the condition of individuals on which Tasers are used in practice. A number of studies have shown that electrical conductivity in humans is increased due to sweating and other conditions present in combative, frightened or chemically-impaired subjects.
Even the manufacturer, Taser International, makes fewer safety claims than are made in the MPD Taser report. Taser International has issued safety alerts including a training bulletin warning that repeated blasts of the Taser can "impair breathing and respiration." Moreover, according to a posting on Taser’s website, for subjects in a state known as excited delirium, repeated or prolonged stuns with the Taser can contribute to "significant and potentially fatal health risks." It appears that the MPD is exaggerating safety claims in its report.
MPD has strayed from original justification for adoption of Tasers.
The original justification for the adoption of Tasers by the MPD and other agencies was as a less lethal alternative to deadly force, particularly firearm usage. However, MPD statistics and community member complaints received by CUAPB indicate that Tasers are being used in many situations in which deadly force would never be justifiable, including incidents of use on already-subdued subjects posing no threat to themselves or others.
There is an old saying that when all you have is a hammer, everything looks like a nail. The 75.7% increase in use of Tasers by MPD in less than a year is a practical example of this phenomenon—increased use of a potentially injurious or even deadly weapon in situations in which its justification is questionable. Increasing the number of Tasers deployed by the MPD will only serve to exacerbate this disturbing trend and lead to increased liability for the city and increased harm to the community.
Communities United Against Police Brutality
3100 16th Avenue S
Minneapolis, MN 55407
Hotline 612-874-STOP (7867)