In the next three to four months, all Dallas police officers on patrol will be equipped with new, smart Tasers that are safer than their predecessors, Chief David Brown said at Wednesday's City Council meeting. After the council approved a five-year deal with Taser International Inc. for the purchase and maintenance of Tasers, the department's 700 or so old Tasers will be replaced with 2,000.
"We haven't in the past had a lot of Tasers in our department," Brown said at a town hall meeting last month. "Because of the challenges with Tasers causing deaths early on, our department backed off of Tasers several years back."
The department has a strict Taser policy, Brown told the council Wednesday, because of deaths linked to the high-voltage stunning devices around the country. The most recent in Dallas happened in 2010, when police tased Freddie Locket while he was high, which can cause complications when being stunned, according to WFAA.
The Tasers the department is purchasing now are much safer for suspects. The devices "stop or reduce the electrical charge that has not had the same outcomes from the initial Tasers several years ago," Brown said at last month's town hall.
Before the city council, Brown added that the Taser policy could be relaxed now because of the new safety features. He said he wanted officers to use Tasers "before they use a gun and before they have to get into a physical fight with suspects." But he doesn't want officers overusing Tasers because of a of lawsuits, he said.
Next month, the first batch of officers will begin training to use the new Tasers, which will include aiming for a suspect's torso because that's what Taser International recommends, Brown said. The smart tasers also collect data on whether the prongs struck their target, and the department will be able to better train officers based on that information, Brown said.
"We're also moving toward body cameras," he said, "so the Taser use will be caught on camera at some point as well."
Though the new Tasers are safer than the old ones the department has now, they are still a potential lethal threat for people with heart problems. This is where the policy comes into play, Brown said.
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"We need to ask those questions when we're on the phone, responding to the call, [ask about] their pre-existing conditions, things that we do prior to our interaction with suspects to try to mitigate the Taser-caused death," Brown told the council. "Pre-existing medical conditions do have an effect on the lethality of the Taser."
Despite this, at the town hall meeting last month, Brown said, "We feel comfortable expanding our use of Tasers. [They're] a less-than-lethal enforcement tool you can take on patrol, particularly, in some of the ways that our officers deal with the mentally ill who might be violent but might not necessarily deserve some of the outcomes that we have been experiencing."
He may have been referring to Jason Harrison, the man with schizophrenia Dallas officers shot and killed in June. Harrison's mother had called the police about her son many times, and every time but the last one officers calmed him down without shooting. At that last incident, police say Harrison "made an aggressive act" toward an officer with a screwdriver.
Send your story tips to the author, Sky Chadde.