10/20/2005

LE group issues recommendations for use of TASER stun guns

By PAM EASTON
Associated Press Writer

HOUSTON- A national law enforcement organization recommended Wednesday that police use Taser stun guns only on people who actively resist officers and for only five seconds at a time.

The Police Executive Research Forum issued a total of 50 recommendations for proper use of the weapons, which deliver a 50,000-volt shock to immobilize people temporarily.

The recommendations suggest that only one officer use a Taser on a suspect at any one time and that only a five-second charge be used before police re-evaluate the situation.

The guidelines were issued amid criticism of police for using the stun guns too often, allegedly with deadly results. Amnesty International has compiled a list of more than 100 people the group says have died after being shocked in scuffles with lawmen.

The stun gun's manufacturer, Arizona-based Taser International Inc., maintains that no deaths have been directly caused by the device alone.

"In cities that have deployed this, it is working very well," said Chuck Wexler, executive director of the forum, a law enforcement think tank. "We also know it is a new technology, and we have to learn from it."

Wexler said police departments should use Tasers in "the most surgical and strategic way possible" until more is known, but to ban the weapons would be a mistake.

"It has to be controlled, but to say there should be a moratorium on it, that would throw us back to the days of giving an officer a choice between a service baton and deadly force," Wexler said. "We need to have some middle ground."

About 6,000 of the nation's 18,000 law enforcement agencies use Tasers, including the Houston Police Department.

Police Chief Harold Hurtt said he first began equipping officers with Tasers while he was police chief in Phoenix, which saw an almost 50 percent decline in fatal police shootings between 2002 and 2003 after adopting the stuns guns.

When Hurtt came to Houston in 2004, he ordered 3,700 Tasers.

"We are using this device in a way to ensure we are protecting the general public and our officers, and we feel it is working very well for us," Hurtt said.

Wexler said the recommendations were based on the overall consensus of the forum, which held a two-day conference in Houston. He said long-term studies into the effectiveness of Tasers are needed.

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