Police get option of using Taser gun
The union opposes having officers choose their weapon in deadly situations
Honolulu Police Chief Boisse Correa has signed a new policy governing the use of electric guns, but the union has raised questions about officers' safety.
The policy would allow police officers to pack Tasers by training the patrol divisions, Central Receiving Division and Specialized Services Division in use of the electric gun. Downtown patrol officers participated in a short-lived pilot program with Taser guns two years ago.
But police union officials cited safety concerns in opposing the new policy, which allows officers to choose an electric gun in situations where the threat level is highest and when a regular gun is an option.
"We think the Taser is an excellent tool," said Alex Garcia, Oahu Chapter president of the State of Hawaii Organization of Police Officers. "It's a good safety tool, but when you bring it to the level of deadly force, it could be deadly to an officer or the public."
The union said adding the Taser to police gun use could pose a serious problem, because an officer might pause too long to decide which to use, Garcia said. "It just causes too much confusion, and hesitation could cost someone their life."
"Nobody else uses that criteria," Garcia said. "Taser doesn't know who uses that criteria. It's the chief's call."
Formerly, the Taser was considered part of an officer's arsenal of less-than-lethal force options, along with pepper spray, baton, physical contact and shotgun with rubber or wooden bullets or bean bags.
Maj. Susan Ballard, with HPD's Training Division, said the electric gun could be used in close proximity to a subject using the drive stun feature, but not using the probes, which are fired.
In the May 2004 pilot program, officers used the M26 Advanced Tasers, which fire two hook-like probes 21 feet. They deliver a 50,000-volt charge and can incapacitate a suspect for five to 10 seconds by overriding the central nervous system.
Ballard said the electric gun is still considered a less-than-lethal option, not deadly force, but it could be used in a situation where a suspect displays aggravated active aggression and a regular gun is an option.
When an officer is close to a suspect, Ballard said, the officer wouldn't pull out a weapon because of the possibility of having it taken away.
The electric gun's stun feature, which is less effective than probes, could be used for close quarters. "If someone is coming after them with a knife, and they're that close, there's no options for the officer except to back away to get distance to pull their weapon," Ballard said.
The policy states that the drive stun feature is used "where an officer or someone else is physically confronted, serious bodily injury is imminent and no other alternative exists except for the use of the drive stun."
The American Civil Liberties Union asked Honolulu and Maui police chiefs two years ago to restrict the use of the Tasers to situations where lethal force is justified.
In its 2004 letters to the chiefs, the ACLU wrote that 50 persons outside Hawaii have died after being "tased." The ACLU objects to police policy allowing their use in situations that do not require lethal force.
Taser International Inc. maintains the weapons do not cause death or injury.
Hawaii is one of 12 states where Tasers are legal for law enforcement use. Tasers are prohibited for law enforcement use in Massachusetts and New Jersey.