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2004 News Releases

ACLU Urges Police Departments to Shun “Stun Guns”

Posted: September 02, 2004|Category: Police Practices

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The Rhode Island ACLU is urging police departments across the state not to purchase Taser “stun guns,” a controversial weapon that many U.S. law enforcement agencies, including four in Rhode Island, have begun adding to their arsenal.

In a two-page letter sent to municipal police chiefs in the state, R.I. ACLU executive director Steven Brown cited research that questions the Taser’s safety record and the way it is used on suspects.

The guns, which can deliver a 50,000 volt, five second shock that stuns victims, are marketed as a “non-lethal” alternative to handguns. However, the ACLU letter states that Tasers appear to be commonly used against unarmed criminals or in other situations where deadly force is not authorized.

The manufacturer claims the guns have never caused a fatality. However, national news reports have begun to question that claim. The New York Times recently reported that six people died after Taser shocks in June of 2004 alone. Similarly, the Arizona Republic conducted an exhaustive study of deaths after Taser shocks, and raised numerous questions about the manufacturer’s claims. In several cases, medical examiners’ reports listed Taser shocks as a contributing cause of death, but because none found that the gun was solely responsible, the manufacturer continues to market it to police departments as safe. To date, no independent studies have evaluated the Taser’s effect on victims.

The ACLU letter called “especially troubling” evidence that drug and alcohol use may make a subject more prone to electroshock injury – or death – from the Taser. This is problematic because the Taser is often used to subdue intoxicated people. In fact, because the weapon is believed to have no lasting effects, some data suggest that officers are more willing to deploy it against suspects who are not armed, are questionably threatening, or are already restrained.

In Rhode Island, according to published reports, Newport, Woonsocket, Bristol and North Providence already use the weapons. In July, the Providence Police Department became the latest Rhode Island force to purchase the weapons, although only designated officers are being given access to them.

“Until the many questions that have been raised about this device have been satisfactorily answered, we strongly urge your Department not to join those other agencies in the purchase of this weapon,” the ACLU’s Brown concluded in his letter to the other chiefs.

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