Electronic stun guns, or police tasers, are a common tool of police officers that raise concern among Chicago civil rights attorneys. Police officers and others who support the use of taser guns argue that tasers are a safe alternative to firearms. However, the relatives of people who have been killed by tasers are concerned with how these weapons are being used on our streets.
The International Association of Chiefs of Police (IAPC) recommends that police officers be provided with clear guidelines on how to use tasers. Officers should be trained to consider the subject’s action, the officer’s perception of the situation, and the other means available to the officer in deciding whether the use of a taser gun is appropriate.
However, police officers do not always follow these guidelines. According to Amnesty International, 351 people have died in the United States since 2001 after being hit with a police taser. Fewer than 10 percent of these victims were carrying a weapon.
Some of the more than 10,000 law enforcement agencies that sanction the use of tasers, allow officers to use taser guns when there is no threat of violence and when there is merely passive resistance on the part of a suspect or individual. There is a concern that police are routinely using tasers and are not applying the fundamental rule of policing that the officer’s response should be proportionate to the situation.
In 2005, Illinois became the first state to require that stun gun owners obtain a firearms license. In signing the bill into law, Governor Blagojevich said, “Tasers and other stun guns can be very dangerous in the wrong hands – the amount of voltage they exert alone can be lethal. By treating these weapons just as seriously as we treat firearms, we can make our streets and neighborhoods safer.”
Yet, in the years since this law was passed, Illinois police officers have continued to use tasers in situations where their use was not proportionate to the threat. For example, in 2006 police used a taser on an unarmed teenager who was already handcuffed and in custody. The teenager died after the taser attack. In 2007 police used a taser gun on an 82 year old woman who was swinging a hammer and, in 2008 police are accused of an unprovoked taser attack on 3 adolescents.
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