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Cincinnati police revises Use of Force Policy, specifically with use of Tasers

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CINCINNATI - The Cincinnati Police Department announced it has revised its Use of Force Policy, specifically as it relates to the Taser X26 electronic stun device.

The revised procedure recommends that an officer aim at a suspect's back when deploying a Taser barb at an actively resisting individual. CPD says this revision is to reduce the risk of serious injury or death, after reports that Taser barbs deployed at the chest region could increase the likelihood of these occurrences.

The department policy now states "frontal shots are prohibited except in situations of self-defense or defense of another."

"That could happen in the instance of a person who is acting in an aggressive manner. The officer is under attack and the officer has no other choice but to deploy the Taser in frontal torso area," said Cincinnati Police Chief James Craig at a press conference on Tuesday.

Chief Craig says the department has been using a new training video to train officers of the new Taser policy since February. The new policy became official on Sept. 4.

CPD says the revised policy achieves objectives that keep with best policing practices, and the revisions were made to "ensure the continued safety of Cincinnati police officers and the suspects they apprehend." Cincinnati police acknowledged in a press release that while rare, there have been certain cases across the country involving the deployment of a Taser which have resulted in cardiac arrest or death.

A 9 News I-Team investigation into whether or not Taser shocks can administer a fatal dose of electricity have revealed several opinions on the use of the tool. The investigation followed the death of Everette Howard in August 2011, who died after a Taser was used on him by UC police. After more than 10 months, the Hamilton County coroner ruled his cause of death was "undetermined," but civil rights attorney Al Gerhardstein, attorney for the Howard family, says it is not possible to definitively blame the Taser because doctors know that electricity does not leave evidence behind in the body. He says this case called for the coroner to look at other evidence such as witness statements of how Howard reacted after the Taser was used on him.

Gerhardstein called the new revision to the CPD Taser policy "a good start."

"I mean whenever force is used you need to think about the severity of the crime, the threat that the suspect poses to the public and whether they're fleeing," he said.

Gerhardstein and the Howards recently called for Taser policy reform that would include the elimination of Taser chest shots. Gerhardstein is currently reviewing the Taser policies of every department in Hamilton County and plans to release his findings in the next week or two.

In the summer of 2011, a jury awarded the family of Darryl Turner, who died after a Taser was used on him, $10 million, ruling that Taser knew its weapon could kill and did not properly warn police. Doctor Douglas Zipes, an electrophysiologist, testified for the plaintiff that Tasers could kill.

The revised policy is as stated in a CPD press release:

When deploying a cartridge from the TASER X26, frontal shots are prohibited except in situations of self defense or defense of another. The TASER X26 should never be aimed at an individual's head, neck, eyes, throat, chest/breast, or genitals. The preferred target area is the back of the individual actively resisting arrest.

Before resorting to the use of any force option, officers must consider these factors:

1. The severity of the crime at issue;

2. Whether the suspect poses an immediate threat to the safety of the officers or others;

3. Whether the suspect is actively resisting arrest or attempting to evade arrest by flight.

Some cases of injuries involving Tasers are a result of secondary hazards. For example, instances have occurred in which a suspect falls after being tased and becomes injured due to environmental hazards. The revised procedure encourages officers to consider such factors before deploying a Taser.

Training on the revised policy will begin the week of Sept. 3.

Cincinnati police said injuries to both officers and suspects have declined significantly with the implementation of the Taser in the police profession. The police department, and the Cincinnati City Law Department maintain that the Taser is a beneficial tool for officers, and with continued training and the new revisions to the Use of Force Policy, risks associated with the Tasers will be minimized with the safety for officers and suspects will be maximized. 

Below is TASER's response to CPD's decision to change its policy. Vice President of Communications Steve Tuttle released the following statement Tuesday afternoon.

Just as Cincinnati and the vast majority of 16,800 law enforcement agencies have found that the implementation of TASER devices have decreased officer and suspect injuries is consistent with the other epidemiological studies by the Department of Justice and others.

Their new policy on chest

probe shots in defense situations is consistent with legal principles when a suspect is an immediate threat. We agree that back shots remain the preferred area when practical which has always been a preferred target zone.

TASER has long stood by the fact that our technology is not risk free and is often used during violent and dangerous confrontations.

It is notable that on August 9, 2012, Zipes testified that it is correct that ‘there is not a single epidemiological study that has found, stated, or concluded that a TASER Electronic Control Device applied to a human has been shown to cause a negative cardiac effect.

While 95,000 people have been saved from potential death or serious injury using TASER devices, there is risk in a TASER device deployment. According to current literature, the relative risks of sudden cardiac death (SCD) is 1 per 3,126 NCAA basketball Division I male athletes per year compared to the risk for TASER device SCD as 1 per 2.5 million.

Zipes' Circulation case series is contrary to the three major TASER position statements by the American Academy of Emergency Medicine, American Medical Association, and the US Department of Justice's National Institute of Justice.

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