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Published: Saturday, 11/16/2013

EDITORIALS

After shock

Law enforcement agencies throughout Ohio should put stringent training and policies in place for Taser use

Tharp Tharp
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A Hamilton County Association of Chiefs of Police report recommends numerous steps for improving local law enforcement Taser policies in Ohio, including having victims checked by trained medical personnel after they have been shocked.

Officials from nine police agencies in Hamilton County prepared the report in response to criticism stemming from at least five deaths involving Tasers over five years in southwest Ohio.

Law enforcement agencies throughout Ohio should follow these recommendations, including warning suspects that they’re about to be stunned and making sure that users are aware that Tasers can kill or injure.

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Agencies must supplement standard training materials, which do not adequately warn of risks, with their own stringent training and guidelines. They also should generally prohibit upper chest shots.

A 2011 Department of Justice project warned that multiple shots may increase risk of death. Those at heightened risk for injury or death following a Taser application include pregnant women, the elderly, young children, visibly frail or slightly built persons, those with a known heart condition, persons in medical or mental crisis, and those under the influence of drugs.

The police report also advises that officers should be trained and certified and should check the devices at the beginning of each shift. Tasers should not be used to subdue people who passively resist or are simply “verbally noncompliant,” the chiefs’ association stated.

Tasers shoot propelled electroshock wires into a person, overwhelm nerve traffic, and cause involuntary muscle contractions. The devices are used around the world to control unruly suspects and prevent them from harming themselves, others, and police officers.

But Amnesty International last year linked 500 deaths to the devices so far in the United States.

The Lucas County Sheriff’s Department recently resumed equipping officers with the electroshock devices for use both in the jail and on the road.

Sheriff John Tharp, who advocated for Tasar use after taking office in January, pledged to use them in a humane way. “We’re not going to overreact,” he said.

At the jail, Mr. Tharp is allowing only command sergeants — not deputies or correctional officers — to use the devices. They will have to summon the sergeants for help in subduing prisoners. Officers equipped with the devices have undergone training provided by the Toledo Police Department, he said.

Taser use at the jail was suspended in 2005 by former Sheriff James Telb after Jeffrey Turner, 41, of Toledo, died after he was shocked five times by city police and four times by sheriff’s corrections officers at the jail in separate incidents that occurred about three hours apart.

Steve Tuttle, spokesman for TASER International Inc., which makes the device, said the Taser saves lives and causes much less injury than a baton, citing a Wake Forest Baptist Medical Center study of 1,201 cases that found no significant injuries in 99.7 percent of the cases.

Nevertheless, questionable deaths and court cases alleging cruel and unusual applications show that care and caution should govern Taser use.



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