The Chicago Police Department plans to own up to 6,900 Tasers by the end of the year, a ninefold increase from just two years ago and enough to give every officer on patrol an electric shock weapon that can drop a person in an instant. Saying Tasers would help “ensure the safety of every resident,” Mayor Rahm Emanuel embraced the devices as an alternative to guns after Laquan McDonald’s fatal shooting by an officer in late 2015. A Chicago Tribune examination of thousands of pages of city records and data on about 4,700 Taser uses over the last decade has raised questions about the department’s reliance on the weapon.
Some officers have used Tasers with unusual regularity. Cops who deployed a Taser did so twice on average, but 16 officers each used a Taser 15 or more times over the last decade. In a department that has historically disregarded red flags suggesting misconduct or excessive force, some heavy Taser users also racked up complaints and shootings. One officer who used a Taser 18 times also fired his gun at people on five separate occasions, wounding three. The city has paid or agreed to pay at least $23.1 million in lawsuits involving Taser use since 2005. At least eight people have died since 2005 after police used Tasers on them. Drug use or other factors were ruled the cause of death in all but one of those cases. Nearly three-fourths of those targeted with Tasers were black, though African-Americans comprise about one-third of the city’s residents. As more officers start carrying the weapons, they will be expected to follow a policy introduced in May that experts say is too permissive because it does not ban police from shocking people who simply flee and pose no serious threat. Other large police departments’ policies explicitly bar the practice.