Police increase use of Taser guns despite criticism

State Comptroller’s Report finds only 8% of complaints over weapon lead to criminal indictments, Shapira slams police for declaring them non-deadly without reviewing all relevant factors.

Taser (illustrative) (photo credit: INGIMAGE)
Taser (illustrative)
(photo credit: INGIMAGE)
State Comptroller Joseph Shapira released a damning report on police use of Tasers on Tuesday, revealing that police increased their use of the weapons even after being hit with criticism, and that there have been problems with observing the rules of engagement.
In addition, the report detailed a laundry list of deficiencies or questionable practices, some which also applied to the Interior Ministry, in almost every area regarding police Taser use.
Tasers gained popularity with police forces around the world in recent years, with many analysts believing that arming officers with non-deadly means could reduce accidental deaths from police shooting incidents.
The police has 500 Tasers, which 2,000 officers are certified to use.
The police declared a total moratorium on Taser use from August 2013 to March 2014 following several high-profile cases of Taser abuse.
In one incident, police officer Sail Anaim shocked a subdued, handcuffed man 24 times with a Taser. He was convicted of torturing a helpless person and was sentenced to 28 months in prison.
At the time, the rules for Taser use were limited to two consecutive shocks over 10 seconds.
In another incident, police came under fire following the arrest of Boaz Albert in Yitzhar, in which officers delivered electric shocks to his chest as he lay on the ground.
Albert’s case was highly publicized in the media, partially because the incident was caught on video.
Based on the video, Albert was not resisting arrest when the Taser gun was used against him.
Though the Justice Ministry’s Police Investigation Department closed the investigation against the police, finding the Taser use justified under the circumstances, the incident, along with the Anaim one, led to many to call for the end of Taser use or for much stricter rules of engagement.
Instead of rolling back Taser use, the police authorized an increase from two electric shocks for 10 seconds to three consecutive electric shocks for 15 seconds, the comptroller said.
The police explained the increase was based on a 2011 US report on the issue that they said was not in their possession when the old rules were made.
The police also said that it was hoped that the increase would lead to greater compliance with the rules, an implied acknowledgment that many policemen were ignoring the rules up until that time.
Another area highlighted by the report was the PID’s follow-up of complaints against police for using Tasers abusively.
PID information indicated that of 115 Taser-related complaints between 2009 and 2014, only 10 cases – 8 percent – of them led to criminal indictments, Shapira said.
Without formally characterizing this as inadequate, the comptroller did so indirectly by describing the entire apparatus for collecting complaints as problematic and as possibly missing complaints.
According to the report, the PID does not keep a record of Taser-related complaints as a separate statistic, and the figures provided to the state comptroller were handwritten and did not even provide details on all of the alleged cases.
PID characterizes its cases by the offense committed according to the statute, such that Taser-related complaints could be thrown into the same category as other “attacking a person” complaints, or could be mixed in with other offenses committed by the policeman in question.
For example, Anaim not only illegally tasered someone, he also illegally physically beat them.
Shapira said that the police had to fix their system for following Taser-related complaints to ensure that they are following all relevant complaints and not missing a large volume of them due to mislabeling.
In another cited deficiency, the comptroller said that the PID did not inform the police officer in charge of Taser use when it was investigating police officers for abuse.
As such, police officers under investigation regularly continued to use Tasers and received Taser training.
Next, Shapira slammed the police for prematurely declaring that Tasers are non-deadly weapons without reviewing all relevant factors.
The report noted that a man died in June 2013 following a Taser attack, and that legal, professional and medical research on the issue is split.
The new rules of engagement for Taser use come closer to banning its use on the elderly, children, pregnant-looking women, and people who look in ill-health, among others, the comptroller added.
These changes show the police are being more careful about potential deadly uses of Tasers on people who are more at risk, but also prove that the police had not fully thought out the dimensions of declaring Tasers to be non-deadly, according to the report.
Another problem that the comptroller said could be the root of many of the deficiencies is that the police have still not clearly defined what kind of weapon the Taser is.
Until recently, the police had made no real pronouncement on whether Tasers should be conceived of as part of the family of guns or as more of a shocking device.
Though the police declared recently that Tasers are more akin to a shocking device, the comptroller said that the decision was made in a rushed manner, disregarded counter evidence and opinions and was not based on a full professional debate on the issue.
The comptroller also called into question the entire idea that Tasers reduce incidents of innocent civilians being harmed.
The police are not following up on the issue in a proper way, and the belief that led to the introduction of Taser use was based more on anecdotal data then on hard evidence, Shapira said.
In light of problematic incidents, Shapira said that the need to use Tasers must be regularly evaluated in a more serious way.
The police reaffirmed the value of Tasers as a non-deadly weapon for subduing problematic people, saying that they have considered all legal and health-related factors, noting its use by hundreds of law enforcement organizations globally and saying it has proven its worth “beyond all doubt.”