Taser policy ready, a year after incident
ASPEN Exactly one year after the use of a Taser on a 63-year-old homeless woman led to a police officer’s firing, the Aspen Police Department has finished a policy regulating stun gun use. Aspen police never had a policy regarding when it’s appropriate to use a stun gun. Police Chief Loren Ryerson said at the time that the department’s use-of-force policy covered Taser use, though it did not mention it directly. A Taser policy has been in the works since soon after the June 2006 incident when officer Melinda Calvano confronted Carol Alexy, whom Calvano suspected of stealing a sweater from The Thrift Store’s drop box. Calvano zapped Alexy, who was later taken to Aspen Valley Hospital. City Manager Steve Barwick fired Calvano for breaking the department’s use-of-force policy after a departmental investigation. In December, Ryerson said the Taser-specific policy likely would be finished by the first week of January. In mid-January, he called it a “high priority.” On Wednesday, he refused to comment to the press.”There ought to be a policy that makes clear when officers are authorized to use Tasers and situations when they are not,” said Mark Silverstein, legal director for the ACLU of Colorado. “It’s seldom one hears of a law enforcement agency using Tasers without an accompanying policy.”Silverstein, whose office is suing the Garfield County Jail for use of stun guns, said one of the big issues is the use of weapons and devices “without written policies that spell out when their use would be excessive or authorized.”Richard Pryor, Aspen’s assistant chief, who investigated the Alexy incident, said the Aspen department is involved in a lawsuit regarding the Calvano incident and so he could not comment. The new policy lays out when officers can and cannot use so-called “intermediate and less-lethal weapons” such as beanbag shotguns, batons, pepper spray and stun guns.The policy says officers shouldn’t use stun guns against pregnant women, children, the elderly, restrained people and in circumstances where a fall may cause death “unless exigent circumstances are present.” However, it does not prohibit such uses.According to the policy, officers should use stun guns as defensive weapons on “a dangerous, violent or potentially violent subject,” “a subject who makes an overt act of active aggression while resisting arrest,” and “to prevent an individual from harming themselves or others while displaying active aggression.”The policy prohibits using stun guns in the following six conditions: punitively, “in drive stun or touch stun mode as a prod or escort device,” “to rouse unconscious, impaired or intoxicated individuals,” for illegal purposes, “against any person displaying passive resistance,” or “when the officer knows that flammable liquids or gasses are present.”Police departments across the U.S. and Canada buy stun guns based on the principle that they are less lethal than guns and bullets. However, the devices have come under criticism in recent years after reports of people suffering serious injuries or dying from shocks. Taser advocates counter that those who have died were either ill, previously injured or had been using illegal drugs, and that the Tasers did not kill them.”We want to be certain that everyone understands how and why we respond to situations,” Ryerson said in a prepared statement. “By having our policies open to public scrutiny, we believe any future use of force questions will answer themselves.”Aspen police made 372 arrests in 2006 and had 23 use-of-force incidents. The only time an Aspen officer fired a stun gun in 2006 was when Calvano did; there were two other times Tasers were displayed. A stun gun has not been displayed or fired in 2007, during which there have been 12 use-of-force incidents.Joel Stonington’s e-mail address is firstname.lastname@example.org
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