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ACLU Calls for Moratorium on Police “Stun Gun” Use

Posted: August 22, 2006|Category: Police Practices

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Following the death this weekend of a Woonsocket resident after being “stunned” with a Taser weapon while in police custody, the Rhode Island ACLU sent a letter today calling on all police departments in the state currently using the controversial weapon to impose a moratorium on their use. R.I. ACLU executive director Steven Brown said that the death of a Rhode Islander after being stunned with the weapon was “inevitable in light of the continually-growing evidence that stun guns are not the non-lethal device that proponents purport it to be.”

Ironically, two years ago this month, the Rhode Island ACLU sent a letter to police departments in the state urging them not to purchase the weapons, citing research at the time that questioned the Taser’s safety record and the way it is used on suspects. Since then, more questions have been raised about the weapon’s use and safety, and as Taser sales have increased, the number of deaths associated with their use has also skyrocketed. Yet the guns, which can deliver a 50,000 volt, five second shock that stuns victims, continue to be marketed as a “non-lethal” alternative to handguns.

In the letter sent to police chiefs today, the ACLU referred them to the data included in the 2004 letter and called on departments that had purchased the weapons to impose a moratorium on their use “until additional information can be gathered on this tragic incident, until the safety of the weapon has been independently and more thoroughly scrutinized by your department, and until your department has had a chance to carefully review both its policies and training procedures governing the weapon’s use.”

When the ACLU wrote police departments in 2004, five departments, including Woonsocket, had already purchased the weapons. The others were Newport, Bristol, Providence and North Providence. Brown said he was not aware how many other departments had since joined those five.

The letter also asks those departments that currently use Tasers to provide the ACLU, pursuant to the Access to Public Records Act, copies of their policies governing the weapon’s use on suspects. The ACLU plans on analyzing those policies to examine what safeguards departments have in place to limit the use of the weapon.

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