Board offers statewide Taser policy
By Neal P. Goswami
VERMONT PRESS BUREAU | November 28,2013
AP File Photo
A Brattleboro police officer demonstrates a Taser in this file photo. A policy on the use of Tasers in Vermont is being drafted.
MONTPELIER — The Vermont Law Enforcement Advisory Board is seeking public input on a proposed statewide policy for the use of Tasers by police.
The board, created in 2004 by the Legislature, was asked in June by Attorney General William Sorrell to consider drafting a statewide policy. He requested any proposal include minimum training standards, standards for deployment, and reporting and accountability requirements.
The board is now asking for input from the public by Wednesday, ahead of its next meeting Dec. 23. The board is expected to take action on the proposed policy at that meeting.
According to the proposed recommendations, only officers who complete training on the use of Tasers, or conducted electrical weapons, and on interacting with people experiencing a mental health crisis should be authorized to carry the devices.
Officers authorized to carry a Taser should conduct a “spark test” to ensure the device is functioning correctly. When possible, officers should display and provide a warning before deploying a stun gun.
The proposed policy states that officers can use a Taser in certain circumstances:
In response to active resistance when another compliance technique has failed or when the officer believes that using another compliance technique will fail or result in a greater risk of injury to the officer, the subject or a third person.
When someone is displaying assaultive behavior but lethal force does not appear to be objectively reasonable.
To prevent suicide or self-inflicted serious physical injury.
To deter vicious or aggressive animals that threaten the safety of the officer or others.
According to the proposed policy, an officer or other person does not have to suffer an injury before the use of a stun gun is justified. Officers should attempt to avoid using a Taser on “a suspect's head, neck, chest, genitals, female breast, and stomach of a pregnant woman.”
The board's proposed policy also states that Tasers should “not be used in a punitive or coercive manner and shall not be used to awaken, escort, or gain compliance from passively resistant subjects.”
The act of fleeing or destroying evidence “in and of itself, does not justify the use” of a Taser, according to the policy.
Additionally, officers who believe they are dealing “with a member of a special population shall give special consideration” to using a Taser. Special populations include those who are cognitively impaired, minors, pregnant women, the elderly and those with a heart condition.
The proposed policy follows the death of a Thetford man, Macadam Mason, 39, after he was hit with a Taser outside his home in June 2012. Mason's caused of death was “sudden cardiac death due to conducted electrical weapon discharge,” according to the Vermont State Police.
Opponents of Taser use called for a moratorium after Mason's death. The American Civil Liberties Union of Vermont has been a strong advocate for regulating their use. Executive Director Allen Gilbert said his organization will be submitting comments on the proposal, which he believes is insufficient.
Gilbert said the group is “glad that both the attorney general and the Vermont Criminal Justice Training Council agreed that regulating Taser use is an important issue and there should be robust discussion about it.”
But the proposal is lacking in some areas, he said. It is merely a recommendation and would not be mandatory, Gilbert said.
“The goal was to establish a statewide policy on Taser use and that is not what the LEAB is proposing. The Law Enforcement Advisory Board is proposing a recommended policy,” he said. “We think that it is critical that Vermont realize we cannot have different police departments acting in different ways in an area as critical as Taser use because we know Tasers can kill.”
Additionally, the proposal “codifies current practices, which we know are insufficient to minimize those injuries and deaths from Taser use by Vermont law enforcement,” Gilbert said.
Lawmakers may need to make some of the recommendations mandatory, he said.
“I think the Legislature is going to have to step in on this one,” Gilbert said. “If the LEAB proposal is approved as it's now written we can't support it, and we'll be working in the Legislature to regulate these dangerous weapons,” he said.
Public comments can be emailed with “Comments re: LEAB Proposed Statewide Taser Policy” in the subject header to: firstname.lastname@example.org.