Taser electric stun guns are being used by police officers routinely to shock people who are mentally disturbed or who simply refuse to obey commands, Amnesty International charged today. The Arizona Republic says the group argues that officers are not using the gun as an alternative to drawing a firearm but instead primarily to shock unarmed people involved in petty crimes, sometimes with deadly results. It calls for a nationwide ban on Tasers until medical, scientific and law enforcement experts conduct “a rigorous, independent and impartial inquiry into their use and effects.”
More than 5,000 police departments use the Taser. In Phoenix, the first major metropolitan force to deploy Tasers to all patrol officers, it’s unlikely that Amnesty will influence policy. “There may have been problems in other cities in the country. Our experience with it has been very successful,” Sgt. Randy Force, police spokesman, said Monday. “We have a sound policy.” “We are dismayed that Amnesty International refuses to accept independent and comprehensive reports concerning the safety and effectiveness of the Taser system,” Taser spokesman said yesterday. In Phoenix, the officer-involved shooting rate in 2002 was 2 1/2 times the rate in Los Angeles. Phoenix police shot 28 people; 13 died. After Tasers were deployed to all patrol officers in 2003, police shootings dropped by 54 percent, to 13, the lowest number since 1990. Nine were fatal.