An analysis of Connecticut's stun gun data from 2015 shows that police disproportionately used the "non-lethal" weapons on people of color and people they think have emotional disturbances.
The findings, from a report out of Central Connecticut State University, are part of the first statewide analysis of stun gun data in the country.
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Connecticut is 68 percent white (non-Hispanic), 15 percent Hispanic, and 12 percent black, as per the most recent census data. But the proportion of people who felt the sting of a police Taser didn't line up with those demographics—white people were under-represented, while other racial groups were over-Tasedd. When Tasers were deployed, 48 percent of the time it was against white people, Hispanics 21 percent of the time, and black people 30 percent of the time.
A third of incidents involved someone who was described as emotionally disturbed, and they were more likely to be Tasered than someone who was not. About half of all incidents involved someone described as being under the influence. Taser's own product warnings caution that using certain modes against people who are emotionally disturbed or under the influence might be ineffective, and repeated use could expose that person to injury.
The data comes with caveats. First off, it's just one state. And though state law in Connecticut requires police departments to report the use of stun guns, researchers found at least one incident when they did not (which resulted in the death of the suspect), and said several of the state's "largest departments" didn't report occasions when a Taser was aimed at a suspect but not fired because they didn't know they were supposed to. Researchers also found that "many departments" reported Taser usage in bulk just before the January 15, 2016 deadline, as opposed to when the incidents occurred, which could have resulted in some of them being missed.
That said, very few police encounters resulted in (reported) Taser incidents: just 610 out of about 700,000, of which 419 resulted in a shock being administered. But the distribution among races and emotionally disturbed people should be familiar to anyone who has been following police use of force incidents.
The report also noted 111 out of 503 incidents involving unarmed people were people whose resistance was reported as passive or "noncompliant," even though the Police Officer Standards and Training Council policy says stun guns should not be used on people resisting passively. Additionally, a review of incident reports from four cities (Bridgeport, Hartford, Milford, and New Haven) found that about 40 percent of the people Tasered were not arrested or charged with a crime—though the sample size (17 cases) was admittedly small.
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