New York City cops may soon be armed with more Tasers. But experts are skeptical that will make the city safer.
Police Commissioner William Bratton announced plans Wednesday to purchase an additional 450 Tasers to give to training officers who work with rookies, the New York Daily News reports. “We are very interested in expanding [the use of Tasers] very significantly,” Bratton said, describing them as “a nonlethal method officers could use.”
The NYPD already has roughly 600 Taser guns.
“The concern with any tool is that once someone has it they may opt to use it rather than non violent strategies,” said Eugene O’Donnell, a former NYPD officer and member of de Blasio’s Public Safety transition committee. “We also need to reduce the police footprint, and this simply takes us in the direction of continuing the over-policing of America.”
The talk of Tasers comes amid incidents that have put city cops under scrutiny for their use of force. This past summer, Eric Garner was killed after an officer held him in what appeared to be a chokehold banned by the NYPD, and a recent grand jury decision not indict him ignited protests across the city. Then on Tuesday, a police officer shot and killed a mentally ill suspect wielding a knife after he stabbed a student and charged toward the police knife in hand.
“This is something we think could be a tool we use additionally that could bring us some ability to help resolve situations better,” Mayor de Blasio said in an unrelated press conference Thursday, according to a report from the Staten Island news site silive.com.
But law enforcement experts say Tasers are a mixed bag when it comes to improving safety for officers and suspects, and they may even lead to more unnecessary violence. The logic behind increasing the use of Tasers is that they give officers a non-lethal alternative to guns when they are threatened, but they may not always work that way in the field, experts say. And while it’s somewhat rare, Tasers can cause death, particularly for those suffering from heart disease.
Professor Peter Moskos, an associate professor at John Jay College of Criminal Justice in New York and a former Baltimore City police officer, agreed. “Generally I’m sort of anti-taser,” he said. “They do serve a purpose. They can be used in situations in which you wouldn’t shoot someone, but there are very few cases when they are used instead of gun. The sad reality is there’s always going to be some messy situations, and the taser doesn’t fix that. By and large, in NYC, it would do more harm than good.”
Maki Haberfeld, a professor of political science at John Jay echoed the others concerns, but she took a slightly more optimistic view. “I wouldn’t like to see people Tased on a more frequent basis,” she said, adding: “I think it’s a good idea to try this. I’m always a proponent of alternatives, but it has to come with proper instruction.”