Monday, December 8, 2003

Police could get updated Tasers

Mayor floats plan to spend $1 million on shock devices

By Jane Prendergast
The Cincinnati Enquirer

Cincinnati's mayor today will pitch a plan to cut 34 city jobs to pay for $1 million in Tasers for police officers.

The announcement came a week after a man died after a struggle with police.

Mayor Charlie Luken said Sunday the city has applied for a federal grant to buy the electronic shocking devices to subdue suspects but can't wait any longer.

No one will be laid off, he said. The middle-management job losses will happen through attrition.

Nathaniel Jones, 41, of Northside, died Nov. 30 after scuffling with police in a restaurant parking lot. A videotape shows the man lunging at officers who then hit him with nightsticks so they could handcuff him.

Hamilton County Coroner Dr. Carl Parrott Jr. said Jones's enlarged heart gave out because of the stress of the three-minute struggle with six officers. Jones was obese and had intoxicating levels of cocaine and PCP in his blood.

The six officers involved did not have access to a Taser - the old ones were taken off the streets because Police Chief Tom Streicher said they were inaccurate and sometimes faulty.

"To tout this as a use-of-force panacea for all situations is a mistake,'' Luken said. "But I think it's incumbent upon us to realize that our police officers need the best technology available.''

Luken said he has been disappointed in the small amount of money the city has received from the U.S. Department of Justice since the Justice and collaborative agreements signed 18 months ago. Justice officials promised help in implementing the agreements' changes.

The mayor said the list of 34 jobs could be available today.

Whether a Taser could have helped in the Jones situation, no one can know, Luken said.

Hamilton County's deputy coroner, Robert Pfalzgraf, who performed Jones' autopsy, said a Taser shock might also have triggered a heart problem.

John Cranley, chairman of council's finance committee, said the idea to buy Tasers is a good one. He talked Sunday with the city's finance director, Bill Moller, about other sources for the money. He said Moller suggested asset-forfeiture funds.

"In either case,'' Cranley said, "there's probably room.''

The city is holding a budget committee hearing at 7 p.m. tonight at the Madisonville Recreation Center.

Tasers, popularly called "stun guns,'' fire tiny barbs that stick in a person's clothes or skin. The user presses a button that causes an electrical charge to the person's body.

The shock is supposed to temporarily immobilize the suspect, but officers say they are not always effective, depending upon things like the thickness of the person's clothing and whether the suspect is high on drugs.

Tasers require minimal training and are highly effective, according to Understanding Police Use of Force, a book by Lt. Howard Rahtz, a supervisor at Cincinnati's training academy. But they must be deployed, he wrote, within about 15 to 21 feet of the suspect. Closer than that, and the officer is at risk for being shocked, the book says. Farther away, one or more of the barbs is likely to miss.

The old Tasers, Luken said, required the officer using it to be very close to the suspect, "almost right on him.''

Luken said he notified all council members by e-mail about 8 a.m. Sunday that he was going to announce the idea. He, city manager Valerie Lemmie and Streicher came under fire last week from council members, mostly Vice Mayor Alicia Reece, who claimed the officials talked publicly about the Jones incident before informing council members.



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