Even as many police departments embraced Taser stun guns over the past 15 years, the New York Police Department kept them out of most officers’ hands. Only some sergeants and members of a specially trained unit were issued the handgun-shaped weapons, and regulations required many of them to keep the devices in the trunks of patrol cars, the New York Times reports. The restrictions were rooted in a troubled history with an earlier generation of stun guns, most notably an episode 30 years ago in which officers tortured prisoners with one. Now the police department, amid national anger over police killings of unarmed black men, is easing its limits on Tasers, which shoot electrified barbs. Some 4,000 officers have been trained in the last year to use the devices, bringing the total near 10,000 on a force of 36,000. There are 1,710 Tasers in circulation, nearly triple the number in 2015. A decade ago, 160 Tasers were in use.
The expansion has occurred as Taser has lobbied in New York to market its products, which include not only stun guns but also body cameras. Since 2013, the company has spent more than $300,000 lobbying the Police Department and other city agencies. Police officials hope the wider availability of Tasers will reduce police shootings by providing officers a less dangerous fallback. “The idea is there is a buffer before you have to use a firearm,” said Inspector Raymond Caroli, the chief firearms trainer. Some police watchdog groups and civil rights lawyers argue that officers may use Tasers even when they face little danger. In one 2014 episode in the Bronx, for instance, the police fired a Taser at a mute autistic man after he had flailed his arms and was uncooperative, according to hospital records.