Politicians on Wednesday ordered State Comptroller Joseph Shapira to investigate taser gun use against civilians, a practice which police had defended in a long and at times heated debate before the Knesset Comptroller’s Committee in Jerusalem.
Complaints against tasers reached their peak this summer, when a widely viewed video on the web showed a police officer electrically shocking Yitzhar resident Boaz Albert, who lay on the floor of his kitchen as officers arrested him.
“A taser is less lethal than firearms. There is no argument about this,” Police Insp.-Gen. Yohanan Danino told the committee, adding that some want the police to return to the use of clubs, which are also more harmful than tasers.
“Check the statistics,” he said.
Police need non-lethal tools like tasers to defuse life-threatening situations, Danino said.
“We have to give them every tool we can,” Danino said.“True, they have firearms, but you do not want him to reach for it immediately – you want him to have the option of less lethal weapons.”
The committee heard conflicting medical testimony as to the lethal nature of tasers. Prof. Avinoam Reches from the Israel Medical Association said that 500 people had died in the US from taser use. In contrast, Israel Police’s chief medical officer Tzvi Lankowski said that 470 studies done on the topic had not linked taser use to deaths.
Danino stood by his stance that tasers were the best and most acceptable option.
“The taser is a tool that the public should want [officers to have] to prevent harm to the civilians and the police,” he said.
Tasers are used by most modern police forces around the world, Danino said. He noted that they were introduced to Israel’s police force in 2010 and became a fully operational tool in its arsenal in 2011; and that so far, 1,800 officers are authorized to use these weapons.
At one point in the morning, police attorney Maurice Chen held up a taser gun to better explain how it worked with a dart option that pierces the skin and another shock option that does not.
“Tasers look like guns, but they are not true firearms,” Chen said. He noted that the police had 530 such weapons and that they had been fired 1,100 times.
Last year, Chen said, the highest taser usage was in the Tel Aviv division, in which it was discharged 173 times, and the lowest in the Judea and Samaria division, which used the weapons only three times.
Moshe Saada, deputy head of the police’s investigatory division, said that only two indictments had been issued for unlawful taser usage, but he failed to provide the committee with statistics on how many complaints had been filed with regard to taser misconduct.
Among those who spoke before the committee was a man who testified in Russian that he had been walking down the street, when officers arrested him and used a taser against him. A photograph was displayed of his injuries including to his face, even though police procedure prohibits use of a taser to the head.
Danino explained that he took the issue of police misconduct very seriously, and last year fired 88 officers – the highest number of such dismissals in the department’s history – so that their actions would not tarnish the reputation of over 3,000 officers who work around the clock to protect Israeli citizens.
In the line of duty, officers suffer shooting, stoning and Molotov cocktail attacks, not just in the West Bank, but throughout the country, Danino said.
The inspector-general had partially suspended taser usage in August after the Albert incident. In September, Danino ordered the weapons to be fully reinstated once officers completed training sessions on new procedures for the weapons, put in place in the last month, that were designed to prevent taser misuse.
“Procedures were not satisfactory and have been changed,” he said. This includes when to use the weapon, as well as knowledge and more immediate recognition of misuse, Danino said. But he did not clearly detail what those changes were for the committee.
“We are open to an investigation and suggestions, as long as it helps us better serve the public,” Danino said.
Committee head MK Amnon Chen (Shas) said that the police had a responsibility in general not to place weapons in the hands of officers who had misused them in the past.
It should treat tasers as firearms, he said, and should warn suspects before it is used.
He suggested that officers experience an electric shock during their taser-handling training, so that they better understand its impact.
It’s true, he said, that police need the right tools for the job, but if the boundaries and procedures are not clear, then taser use becomes arbitrary and disproportionate.