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CCRB review of NYPD Taser use shows discrepancies

December 6, 2019 Gabriel Sandoval, THE CITY
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This story was originally published on Dec. 5 by THE CITY

A four-year review of complaints on the NYPD’s use of Tasers released Thursday found cops mostly deployed them on people of color and a “significant number” of folks who were experiencing a mental health crisis.

The analysis conducted by the Civilian Complaint Review Board addressed 114 allegations of improper use of a Taser by police between 2014 and 2017.

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Of the cases examined over that period, the CCRB fully exonerated officers 68 percent of the time. It found a complaint “substantiated” — meaning the use of the electric-shock weapon by police was deemed inappropriate by the review board — in only 10 instances, or 9 percent of the cases.

“This in-depth review also reveals that more can be done by the NYPD to clarify for officers the Department’s policies surrounding the use of Tasers,” wrote CCRB Chair Fred Davie at the beginning of the report.

Among the findings:

  • The proportion of complaints by someone considered an “emotionally disturbed person” — that is, going through a mental health crisis and/or with substance abuse issues — ranged from a low of 37 percent in 2015 to a high of 67 percent in 2016.
  • People aged 19 or younger filed 39 complaints, or 34 percent of the total 114.
  • The NYPD should increase training and reporting when it comes to Taser use.

The report also found that the complainant’s race was black 53 percent of the time, while the officer’s race was white 67 percent of the time.

Only a small portion of all NYPD Taser uses resulted in a complaint to the CCRB — and even a smaller portion was found to be inappropriate by the board.

The NYPD reported officers deploying tasers 1,229 times from 2016, when they first began tracking use, to 2017. In that time period only 136 complaints were made to the CCRB.

The NYPD filed a response letter to the board that notes that “the number of substantiated cases of misuse of a Taser is less than 0.39 percent of total intentional discharges.”

Not all ‘negative interactions’ become complaints

In a phone call with reporters Wednesday, the CCRB said that it’s difficult to gauge how many people have been tased by law enforcement but have not come forward to complain.

“It’s a limited number of individuals that we have,” said a CCRB official. “Not everyone who experiences a negative interaction with a police officer reports that to us.”

“We don’t necessarily know what’s out there,” the official added.

Graphic: The Civilian Complaint Review Board of NYC

The CCRB made several recommendations on the use of Tasers by the NYPD, including “additional training guidance” and requirements that officers better record their discharges.

In a statement to THE CITY, Al Baker, an NYPD spokesperson, said, “Our guiding principle, in all cases, is to use only a reasonable level of force necessary in any situation. Our Taser training is integrated with our de-escalation and Crisis Intervention Team training and our commitment to use non-lethal means to successfully manage encounters with New York’s most vulnerable residents.”

Davie later said that the CCRB “look[s] forward to working with the NYPD toward implementing recommendations within the report and holding officers accountable when we determine Taser-related misconduct has occurred.”

This story was originally published by THE CITY, an independent, nonprofit news organization dedicated to hard-hitting reporting that serves the people of New York.

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