In an effort aimed at reducing the use of deadly force, the Los Angeles Police Department plans to equip all uniformed patrol officers with Tasers, according to a memo obtained by KPCC.
The memo states officers “shall carry” a Taser if one is available at their patrol station.
Officials said growing public outcry over police shootings prompted the policy change.
“It reduces the probability of lethal force,” said LAPD Deputy Chief Bill Murphy. “It gives officers another option.”
The department currently has about 3,200 Tasers, he said. Equipping every patrol officer will require the purchase of nearly 4,000 more.
The cost and timeline for deployment is still being worked out. Tasers cost upwards of $850 each - though police departments often get them for considerably cheaper. The electronic darts cost more than $21 apiece.
One LAPD official said they’re hoping to put Tasers on the belt of every officer within months.
“I think it’s a good idea,” said Craig Lally, president of the Los Angeles Police Protective League, the union that represents rank and file officers.
“There might be a situation where a Taser would be effective in stopping the threat, and then you don’t have to go to your firearm,” he said.
It stands to reason that the availability of less than lethal weapons like Tasers and beanbag shotguns prevent police shootings. But its impossible to say for sure, said Lally. And many shootings will still happen.
“You’re not going to shoot a guy with a Taser when he’s got a gun.”
One use of force expert said there is no doubt police will shoot fewer people.
“I think there’s quite a number of incidents over the years that clearly could have been prevented had a Taser been immediately available,” said Greg Meyer, a former LAPD captain who now testifies on police use of force in court cases around the country.
This is “long overdue,” Meyer said of the LAPD’s new policy.
He noted Tasers don’t always work. Two electronic probes must make contact with the suspect. The LAPD’s Murphy said internal studies found Tasers work about 67 percent of the time.
A spokesperson for the L.A. County Sheriff's Department said about half of their deputies carry Tasers – and that individual patrol stations must raise their own money if they want to equip all deputies.
Earlier this year, the LAPD began purchasing the X26P, billed as the latest electronic control device from Taser International. It has a “maximum effective range” of 25 feet and provides a five-second jolt.
Among other things, it also automatically activates the LAPD’s body cameras, which also are manufactured by Taser.
Human rights groups have cautioned that Tasers can be misused.
Amnesty International has called for tighter limits on police use of the weapons. From 2001 to 2012, the group said it recorded 92 deaths following the use of Tasers in California and 500 nationwide.
Taser policies are under scrutiny at police agencies across Southern California, after several high profile deaths:
- In Los Angeles, Carlos Ocana, 54, a homeless mentally ill man sitting atop a downtown billboard fell to his death after LAPD officers used a Taser on him in May of 2014. The incident is under investigation by the department.
- In Fullerton, Kelly Thomas, 37, a homeless schizophrenic man died after being shocked multiple times with a Taser and beaten by police in 2011. Two officers were found not guilty of criminal charges, including second degree murder and involuntary manslaughter. The incident sparked a national debate on the treatment by police of the homeless and mentally ill.
- In Victorville, Dante Parker, 36, was shocked with a Taser “at least 25 times” by San Bernardino sheriff’s deputies before he died in August of 2014, according to a civil rights lawsuit filed by his family.
There are no national standards for Taser use, according to University of South Florida criminologist Lorie Fridell. She said law enforcement departments should adopt strict guidelines to avoid fatalities and pointed to a report by the U.S. Justice Department that suggested limiting the number of times officers use a Taser on a suspect.
“Unless there are extreme circumstances, three activations of five seconds each will be the limit,” Fridell told KPCC in March. “Most importantly, at what level of a subject’s resistance will Tasers be used. We don’t want the Tasers to be used, for instance, against a person who is just being passively resistant.”