Taser review shocks City Council

BY SHANNON WILEY

A new tool has been implemented by the Salisbury Police Department, which SPD Chief Barbra Duncan has concluded reduces the amount of injuries sustained not just to officers, but to the individuals that being put in custody, too.

This tool is an Electronic Control Device, otherwise known as a taser.

In January of 2014, Duncan addressed the City Council asking to start a 12 month pilot program to see how the agency would work with the use of tasers. In October of that year, the SPD started that program with nine tasers and 16 officers trained to carry and use them. This past Monday night, Duncan came back to the council to review her findings.

She relayed to the council that during this period, eight officers were injured on duty, as opposed to 13 the year before. Likewise, 13 offenders were injured versus 15 the year before. Eight of those 13 were due to tasers.

“This decrease is consistent with other municipalities across the country,” Duncan said.

In regards to the officer injuries, Duncan said that the decrease in officer injuries was due to the decrease in the necessity for a physical altercation between officer and perpetrator.

Of the eight individuals injured by tasers, all of those injuries were what Duncan and the council described as “minor” injuries, including skin punctures from the taser probes, scrapes, and abrasions from the individual falling after being tased. This is in contrast to puffy eyes from a spray, lacerations from batons, or twisted knees that have been common from “hard takedowns,” as Duncan explained.

The tasers were presented a total of 34 times to perpetrators that year with a warning that the office may tase them if they did not comply. 13 of those times, the officer did have to use it, but 21 times, the perpetrator began to comply after the warning and the officers’ de-escalation tactics.

“It’s a lot of communication,” Duncan said. “We try not to communicate with them, we try to talk with them, to get them to comply without putting hands on them… without using the taser.

Based off of pilot period, Duncan said that she felt “comfortable and confident” in increasing the number tasers because she feels it will help protect the individuals taken into custody, as well as the officers.

Moving forward, Duncan plans to speak with the mayor about purchasing more tasers, as her goal is to build to 30 within the force so that officers do not have to always be sharing and handing them off, as well as get more officers trained.

At the moment, she believes funding is the biggest obstacle the department faces in reaching their goals. Each unit costs $900, as they come with a camera as well as the software to use them, so the department must build year by year to get to the goal amount.

The department did not ask for any more in their 2015 budget, but will most likely ask for 10 more in 2016.

Although Duncan is hoping to grow their use of the tool in increments, she said that this is still difficult because there are other things the SPD needs to ask for in their budget such as training, building maintenance and uniforms. Likewise, she said she knows that they are not the only department in the city that will be asking for more equipment.

Overall, the committee looked positively on Duncan’s presentation.

“I like what I heard,” City Council President Jack Heath said. “The part that impressed me the most is the number 21, where they displayed the taser and the issue was resolved with absolutely no physical contact.

“It reduces the risk of serious injury for both the officer and the person being detained,” City Council Vice President Laura Mitchell said. “If the mere presentation of the taser and giving them notice that they’re going to be tased if they don’t comply forces them into compliance than nobody gets hurt. That’s fantastic, even in the cases where the taser does get deployed, they were only minor injuries… a Band-Aid fixed it.”

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