Saturday, October 21, 2000

Debate resumes on issuing Tasers to police officers

By Jane Prendergast
The Cincinnati Enquirer

        Cincinnati officials again are debating whether to buy Tasers for every street officer.

        The city administration says no — it would cost too much and Tasers aren't used often anyway. But the police union and at least one city councilman disagree. More Tasers, they say, would keep officers and suspects safer. They want them in every cruiser.

        Councilman Charlie Winburn scheduled a public hear ing on the issue for Monday afternoon at City Hall. He uses a Cincinnati case to illustrate the need — that of Michael Carpenter, the Mount Airy man shot to death by officers in March 1999 in a confrontation that began as a traffic stop.

        The death caused an uproar among some activists in the city's African-American community and prompted a federal investigation into the officers' use of force.

        “Money should not be the issue,” said Mr. Winburn, chairman of council's law and public safety committee. “Safety should be the issue.”

        Tasers are battery-operated devices that shoot 50,000 volts up to 15 feet. That's sometimes enough to knock a suspect to the ground.

        Now, an officer who needs a Taser has to call for a supervisor to deliver one. That can take a while, Fraternal Order of Police President Keith Fangman says, leaving too much time to pass, time for the situation to escalate and get more physical than necessary.

        But a report out Friday from Safety Director Kent Ryan and signed by City Manager John Shirey recommends against buying any more than the 46 Tasers the police division now owns. They've only been used 17 times since 1996, Mr. Ryan wrote, and buying 700 more would cost more than $238,000.

        Both sides point to the example of the mentally ill man who fought police officers in August and spewed blood on them after he broke through a window in Over-the-Rhine.

        Mr. Fangman said having a Taser on that scene faster would've helped officers sub due the man more easily. The city's report, however, says a Taser was on the scene and that the supervisor in charge did not think it necessary to use it.


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