PORTLAND POLICE DEPLOY POTENTIALLY LETHAL ELECTRO-SHOCK DEVICES Chief Kroeker Ignores Principles of Community Policing |
On Monday, June 17, Portland Police Chief Mark Kroeker announced that the Portland Police Bureau is now equipped with tasers, small electro-shock devices which are supposed "less lethal" alternatives to guns or pepper spray. Kroeker seems to have made the decision without seeking community input. It appears Kroeker did not even consult with the highly-touted new civilian police review system, the Independent Police Review Division (IPR). Tasers are at best an unknown danger and at worst, two-time killers, according to human rights group Amnesty International.
A 1998 report on Police Brutality and Prison Abuse in the USA ("United States of America: Rights for All") describes the taser and its cousin the stun gun as devices which "jolt" a suspect with 50,000 volts of electricity. The book reports "In July, 1996, a 29-year-old woman, Kimberly Lashon Watkins, died after being shot by police with a taser in Pomona, California. Just five months later, Andrew Hunt, Jr died when Pomona police reportedly shot him several times with a taser after he had been handcuffed."
Not enough independent research has been done on the short-and long-term effects of tasers to be conclusive. However, the September 1, 2001 medical journal the Lancet cited three of 218 people hit by tasers who died, possibly connected to the use of the devices. The Lancet also articulated the need to study "injury threshholds" and the effects on nerves, adding that two people with a history of cardiac disease went into cardiac arrest within five minutes of being hit with tasers.
Members of local police accountability group Portland Copwatch question whether the taser has been fully and independently tested for safety on people with specific ailments (such as heart conditions or epilepsy). The group also worries that once the new devices are readily available, police may misuse them, as they have with other weapons like pepper spray and "beanbag" guns--each of which have been used against unarmed civilians including peaceful demonstrators.
"We are very concerned that the Chief is adding to the police arsenal with no community input," said Kristian Williams of Copwatch. "He seems to have forgotten his promise to leave L.A.-style policing in L.A."
Copwatch also raised the issue of officer training and noted that other "less lethal" technologies have proven quite deadly. They pointed to the deaths of Brian Penton and Richard "Dickie" Dow in 1998 as probably related to the "less lethal" OC Pepper Spray (the manufacturer paid Dow's family $10,000 earlier this year), and the use of "beanbag" guns which is being curtailed nationally in the wake of numerous deaths caused by those supposedly "non lethal" weapons (LA Times, June 3).
For more information or interviews please call Portland Copwatch at 503-236-3065.