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NYCLU: Rand Study Shouldn’t Green Light NYPD Tasers

NEW YORK - For the second time in one year, the Rand Corporation has issued a report that parrots the NYPD’s perspective without seeking public input.

The report, which is purported to be an independent analysis of the NYPD’s firearms and shooting practices prompted by the Sean Bell shooting, includes no community input whatsoever. Nor does it address any issues raised by the Bell shooting. Instead, it recommends the Department begin equipping patrol officers with Tasers, a lethal weapon that requires the same degree of scrutiny and supervision as handguns.

The New York Civil Liberties Union today urged the NYPD not to enact this recommendation without careful study and a public dialogue.

“This is not how the Department should go about expanding the use of a lethal weapon – with no public process,” said Donna Lieberman, NYCLU executive director. “Once again it has commissioned a Rand Corporation study on important public policies without involving the public or anyone outside the Department, for that matter. This raises serious questions about the report’s thoroughness and objectivity.”

In January, Rand released an NYPD-commissioned report that glossed over apparent racial disparities in the NYPD’s stop-and-frisk practices.

Tasers fire twin metal barbs that emit a 50,000-volt charge into an individual, causing the person to collapse from loss of muscular control. There have been numerous instances of people dying or being seriously injured after Tasers were used on them.  In March 2005, a teenager in Guilderland, a town outside Albany, was badly burned after being tasered by police in a mall parking lot.

“Fifty-thousand volts of electricity is no substitute for strong police negotiating skills,” said Lieberman. “While there may be instances where Tasers are effective and appropriate law enforcement tools, the NYPD must not issue these lethal weapons to patrol officers without detailed study and community involvement.”

In an exhaustive 2005 report on the use of Tasers in central and northern California, the ACLU documented numerous deaths associated with use of the device. For instance, a 21-year-old man died in Vallejo, Calif. in 2004 after police jolted him 17 times with Tasers.  The survey, which involved the study of more than 50 police departments across central and northern California, concluded that while Taser-related deaths had risen dramatically, the weapon remained largely unregulated.

Currently, the NYPD only equips its patrol sergeants and emergency services units with Tasers.  

The NYCLU also criticized the NYPD’s failure to address issues raised by the Bell shooting.  NYCLU Associate Legal Director Christopher Dun said, “After police officers fired 50 shots at an unarmed Sean Bell and two other black men, Commissioner Kelly promised a careful and independent study of police shooting practices.  Today’s report, however, completely ignores the issue of race in police shootings, leaving New Yorkers with no answers to many questions raised by the tragic Bell shooting.”