As Phoenix police chief, Harold Hurtt, now chief in Houston, bought more Taser guns than any department in the country, equipping all 1,600 patrol officers, says the Houston Chronicle. Now he wants to make Houston the nation’s largest buyer with a proposed purchase of 3,600 Tasers — again, equipping every patrol officer with the devices, which fire two tiny darts that deliver a debilitating electric shock. “I do not own any stock in Tasers,” Hurtt quipped last week while pushing his plan to spend $3.2 million for the devices. Phoenix was rocked by statistics showing police were more likely to shoot and kill civilians than in any other of the nation’s 10 largest cities. After Hurtt bought Tasers in early 2003, fatal shootings decreased 31 percent. Other cities reported similar results. Miami had no police shootings last year, for the first time in 14 years. Seattle had none for the first time in 15 years. Taser International of Scottsdale, Ariz., estimates that 1,900 lives have been saved since 1999 because police used the Tasers instead of guns. The company is projecting a 150 percent sales increase for the second straight year.
Amnesty International and the American Civil Liberties Union are raising concerns that Tasers have contributed to some deaths and that they are being used unnecessarily to control suspects, even when officers’ lives are not in danger. Claiming that 51 people have died in custody in the United States since 1999 after being stunned by Tasers, Amnesty International is asking police departments to stop using them until their safety is assessed by independent researchers. Last week, a coroner in Las Vegas ruled for the first time in the U.S. that a new-model Taser played a role in an in-custody death. A 26-year-old man on PCP who was stunned seven times in 10 minutes while struggling with police in February died of a heart attack. Clark County Medical Examiner Ronald Knoblock said the Taser contributed to the death. “I can’t say the Taser in itself caused his death,” Knoblock told the Las Vegas Sun. “If you took the Taser away I couldn’t say he wouldn’t have died.”