A new report shows that officers were more likely to use Tasers in police incidents with minorities, but those in charge of compiling the information warned Thursday that it is too soon to draw any conclusions from the data.
The report, compiled by analysts at Central Connecticut State University, looked at all 610 incidents involving the use of Tasers by 79 different police departments in the state during 2015. It was presented Thursday to the Criminal Justice Policy Advisory Commission.
Ken Barone, policy and research specialist at the Institute for Municipal & Regional Policy at CCSU, called the study “an important, first step.”
“We now have a benchmark,” Barone told the advisory commission. “This is the first time any state in the country has compiled statistics on the use of Tasers for every single instance of use.”
Barone said some of the data, which included showing that Hispanics tasered were more likely to be tased multiple times than other racial groups, surprised him.
“Frankly I was surprised there wasn’t thousands of incidents,” said Barone, instead of the 610 reported.
Barone said that 10 police departments in the state of Connecticut accounted for more than half of the use of Tasers — topped by the Hartford police department, which reported using the stun guns 51 different times.
The other two big cities in the state, Barone said, New Haven and Bridgeport, reported using Tasers less than 20 times each during the reporting period.
Barone repeatedly cautioned, however, that the study was “just a start,” adding that there were still wrinkles that needed to be worked out.
For instance, he said, some police departments reported an incident every time a Taser was drawn by a police officer; other departments only reported every time a Taser was actually shot. He added that while 610 incidents were reported, only 419 people were actually tased.
“This is a really, really good start,” Barone said. “It helps us figure out where we need to focus our efforts in the future. But I don’t think we should be re-writing policies based on it.”
Chief State’s Attorney Kevin Kane said he was troubled by how the data is likely to be interpreted.
“This is a first step,” Kane said. “You have a lot of data, but there’s also a lot of information you don’t have. People are going to draw conclusions that minorities are being targeted.”
Barone agreed with Kane’s assessment.
“It is not our role to determine the use of Tasers was justified or not,” Barone said.
To Kane’s point that people will draw conclusions from the data, the American Civil Liberties Union of Connecticut was quick to respond to the report.
“Unfortunately, this report makes it clear that Connecticut has work to do to make sure that police use Tasers fairly, justly, and wisely,” David McGuire, legislative and policy director and interim director of the ACLU of Connecticut, said. “When someone is vulnerable and in crisis, police should be there to help, not hurt. Public safety, not subconscious or conscious biases, should determine whether and when police draw their Tasers.”
However, McGuire said as the first state to require Taser reporting Connecticut is sending a message that “police here can’t use powerful electronic shock weapons in the shadows.”
Next, McGuire added, “it’s time to ask some tough questions about why police are disproportionately pointing Tasers at minorities and people in crisis, and how our state can prevent more tragedies and misuse.”
The ACLU of Connecticut has sent Freedom of Information requests seeking full Taser use-of-force reports from all police departments that reported Taser incidents in 2015. Since 2005, 18 people have died after being tased by police in Connecticut, and 12 were Black or Hispanic.
McGuire said he hoped the report would “empower the General Assembly to strengthen Connecticut law to improve transparency and regulations, require police to use Taser cameras, and provide better training for police Taser use.”
Barone, while reiterating he didn’t think there was enough data available yet for the legislature to write new legislation on Tasers, did suggest that politicians consider measures such as requiring police departments whose officers use Tasers to submit more detailed reports than the “one-page summary” they are currently required to submit.
That would allow for a better analysis of each Taser incident, Barone said, and whether for instance a Taser was the best choice for an officer instead of perhaps a police baton or pepper spray.