Maryland police officers didn’t always follow the safety recommendations of a stun gun manufacturer in the hundreds of times they used them over a three-year period, a newspaper investigation has found.
Data from 2012 to 2014 shows police discharged their stun guns for longer than 15 seconds in one out of every 10 times, according to a six-month investigation by The Baltimore Sun. That’s discouraged by Taser International, which makes stun guns, the U.S. Justice Department and other experts.
The paper also found 119 cases in 2014 in which officers fired stun guns at someone’s chest, which Taser International has said could cause cardiac arrest.
Meanwhile, nearly 60 percent of people who were hit with stun guns by Maryland officers over the time frame were described as “non-compliant and non-threatening.” In 23 percent of the cases, officers said they used the guns because the person used force against them, and in 18 percent of the cases officers said they took action because they were threatened.
More than 75 Maryland police departments use stun guns. Eleven people have died in Maryland after incidents in which police used stun guns since 2009, but their deaths have been attributed to a number of things, including drug use and pre-existing conditions.
Former Maryland Attorney General Doug Gansler said it’s time for the state to reconsider whether to impose a statewide policy on stun gun use – an action that was recommended in 2009 by a task force he formed.
“The state should absolutely revisit it,” Gansler. “Tasers have been used by a lot more law enforcement officers and law enforcement departments. We should have uniformity and consistency throughout the state.”
Police say stun guns provide officers with much-needed alternative to lethal force when they confront suspects. They note that officers have successfully used the weapon thousands of times to protect themselves and the public.
Takoma Park Police Chief Alan Goldberg, who spoke on behalf of Maryland police associations, said the stun gun data doesn’t tell the whole story.
It does not show that officers may have been in danger when dealing with a noncompliant suspect or the times that officers managed to control a suspect by pointing the stun gun at them, but not discharging it, Goldberg said.