The aftermath of countless police shootings involving nonviolent, unarmed, or otherwise peaceful individuals has left many families and police brutality critics asking one question: Why aren’t nonviolent measures like stun guns being utilized more by police?
Well, the answer might just be that they don’t have access to them. Out of 18,000 local police departments in the nation, (not counting sheriffs departments) 44 percent, or 8,000 do not use stun guns.(tasers)
Police chiefs say they would like to supply their officers with stun guns but that cost has become a major factor.
“It always comes down to budget issues, unfortunately,” said Michael Reilly, chief of the Mansfield Township Police Department in New Jersey. “I think eventually everyone will have them but it may take a long time for everyone to get in the program.”
Stun guns, commonly referred to as Tasers, are not uncommon in departments around the country but large pockets within certain states particularly, have not seen wide adoption of less-lethal restraint measures.
For years, New Jersey lagged behind the rest of the nation in authorizing stun gun use by police. When it did approve the devices in 2011, it was the last state to do so. Even then, only two types of tasers were authorized for use, each of which, when equipped with the necessary accessories, costs upward of $2,500.
Three unidentified Phillipsburg, NJ police officers remain on administrative leave after the shooting of 36-year-old Thomas Read, Monday, who friends say was schizophrenic and had been without his medication for days.
Police have given few details about the confrontation, saying only that Read was armed with a knife, “refused to comply with police orders to drop the knife and was subsequently shot.”
Phillipsburg, like every other police department in Warren County, NJ, still does not have stun guns.
Investigators with the Warren County Prosecutor’s Office continue to probe the shooting but say it is impossible to know how, or if, the use of a taser would have influenced the confrontation.
Phil Lubitz, associate director for the New Jersey branch of the National Alliance on Mental Illness, said he supports the use of Tasers by police. But he also said there is a strong body of research that suggests increased police training could greatly reduce the number of instances where confrontations between authorities and a mentally ill person ends with someone being injured or killed.
He pointed specifically to Crisis Intervention Training, a weeklong course designed to teach police how to recognize and respond to mental illness and psychiatric emergencies. Warren County held CIT for the first time in September, one of the smallest counties thus far do so.
Stun guns are not harmless. They can and do kill. According to Amnesty International, between 2001 and 2008, 351 people in the United States died after being shocked by police tasers. Electronic Village, has documented another 283 such incidents since 2008. That’s 634 since 2001.
According to a Department of Justice study however, suspect injuries reduce 60 percent when less-lethal weapons are deployed. Also, Taser.com says that 5.4 percent of Electronic Control Device deployments prevent the use of lethal force by Law Enforcement Officers.
According to Lubitz, the shooting in Phillipsburg was at least the 16th fatal police shooting involving a mentally ill person in New Jersey in the past four years. Only one, he said, resulted from a crime being committed.