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NY Politics
Bratton Pushes for More Tasers for NYPD
From the Wall Street Journal of Wed, 10 Dec 2014 22:33:39 EST
The Taser X26, which the New York Police Department uses.
The Taser X26, which the New York Police Department uses. TASER International

New York City Police Commissioner William Bratton made a case Wednesday for expanding the department’s use of Tasers, but he cautioned the electrical-stun guns may not have been appropriate to subdue the man fatally shot by police earlier this week after he lunged at an officer with a knife.

Mr. Bratton said he wanted to equip an additional 450 senior officers with Tasers and have the officers carry the weapons with them. The current policy is to store the Tasers in police vehicles and bring them out only when needed.

The NYPD owns about 600 Tasers, and their use is restricted to sergeants, lieutenants and Emergency Service Unit personnel.

Mr. Bratton’s call for more Tasers comes as the NYPD considers new training on the use of force and protocols for handling people resisting arrest following the case of Eric Garner, a Staten Island man who died in July after officers wrestled him to the ground.

On Tuesday, police shot and killed a man who had stabbed a student at the Chabad-Lubavitch Hasidic headquarters in the Crown Heights neighborhood of Brooklyn.

That “situation, the speed and rapidity in which it occurred, a Taser might not have been effective in that particular instance,” Mr. Bratton said. “It’s something that’s useful in many instances but not in all instances.”

Mr. Bratton said he had no cost estimate for expanding the department’s arsenal of Tasers. The press office for Mayor Bill de Blasio didn’t respond for a request for comment on Mr. Bratton’s proposal.

Levi Rosenblat, the 22-year-old student who was attacked Tuesday, was listed Wednesday evening in serious but stable condition at Bellevue Hospital Center.

At the Lubavitch center Wednesday morning, there was a visible police presence. About a dozen uniformed officers and several community-affairs officers stood guard outside. A command truck was parked nearby.

NYPD Chief of Department James P. O’Neill visited the synagogue to meet with community leaders.

Rabbi Abe Friedman, an NYPD liaison at the Lubavitch facility, said officials discussed the complex’s long-held open-door policy to outsiders but there were no immediate plans to change it or to install metal detectors.

Police across the U.S. have expanded their use of Tasers in the past decade. A spokesman with Taser International Inc., the weapon’s manufacturer, said more than 17,000 law-enforcement agencies use its products.

Usage varies by department. In Houston, all of the city’s 2,200 patrol officers are equipped with Tasers, according to a department spokesman. The Chicago Police Department has 700. Some big-city police departments, such as those in Boston and Detroit, don’t use them.

While cost may be a reason that some departments don’t have Tasers, said Chuck Wexler, executive director of the Police Executive Research Forum, a law-enforcement policy think tank, the weapons remain controversial.

“When used properly under the right circumstances, it does what it is supposed to do, which is incapacitate somebody,” Mr. Wexler said. “The problem is that it doesn’t work that way in every situation.”

The NYPD came under criticism in 2008 after police fired a Taser at a man with mental illness on a Brooklyn rooftop. The man fell to his death.

“It was that incident, I think, that caused the NYPD to take a cautious approach to Tasers,” said Corey Stoughton, senior staff attorney, with the New York Civil Liberties Union.

Ms. Stoughton said the NYPD has well-thought-out and strict policies on the use of Tasers. “If they continue to follow it, it will be a good thing,” she said.

Dennis Kenney, a professor at the John Jay College of Criminal Justice, said police departments had been tightening their Taser policies in recent years. But there is no national standard on when it is appropriate to use a Taser on someone resisting arrest. “Most everybody believes that the standard for the level of resistance should be set below the deadly-force level,” Mr. Kenney said. “And where below is where the debate is. How much resistance is justified?”

Mr. Bratton said Wednesday the NYPD has initiated a review of how it uses Tasers. “They are not without controversy,” Mr. Bratton said. “But I think that they are a very effective tool.”

The additional 450 Tasers aren’t expected to be acquired by the NYPD for at least three to four months at the earliest, a law-enforcement official said. Money needs to be found in the budget, and training will take time, the official said.

—Joe Jackson contributed to this article.

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