Friday, June 23

Questions raised about safety, regulation of Tasers


When university police officers were called to Powell Library on
Tuesday night to escort a student off the premises, they used
weapons which are unregulated and have largely unknown effects on
the body.

Mostafa Tabatabainejad, a 23-year-old UCLA student, was hit with
a Taser at least four times after he was unable to produce his
BruinCard during a random check of all people in the CLICC Lab and
did not leave the building promptly upon request.

UCPD said in a statement that the officers resorted to the use
of the Taser because Tabatabainejad refused to comply with
officers’ requests that he leave and encouraged other library
patrons to join in his resistance.

But when it comes to an appropriate use of force, especially
when the weapon in question is a Taser, the regulations are not
clear.

Sharon Dolovich, a UCLA law professor and expert in criminal
law, said the use of force by a police officer is usually governed
by individual departments’ policies.

“These policies are sometimes very flexible,” she
said. “The officers have to use their best
judgment.”

Though UCPD and several other California university campuses
have adopted Tasers as an alternative to more forceful weapons, the
devices remain largely unregulated because they are not considered
a firearm.

The regulations regarding Taser use are left up to states and
local police departments. California allows the use of Tasers by
law enforcement officials, but seven other states have banned their
use and one state has restricted them, according to multiple state
penal codes.

A report compiled by the American Civil Liberties Union found
that many police agencies have vague or nonexistent policies
regarding Tasers.

“Out of the 54 agencies surveyed, only four agencies had
any language whatsoever in their policies warning against or
prohibiting multiple shocks,” the report read.

UCPD has yet to publicly release official department guidelines
regarding the use of Tasers, but Nancy Greenstein, director of
police community services at UCPD, said the officers are trained to
use the weapon by the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s
Department, and there are state training standards for the use of
weapons and force.

Tasers are considered one step in a series of progressive
actions police can take to use force.

On Tuesday, UCPD used the “drive stun” setting,
which is one of two possible settings that can be used.

According to a report prepared by the Stanford Criminal Justice
Center, the drive stun setting of a Taser is intended for
“pain compliance” in close range.

The drive stun setting, in which police touch the device to a
person’s body, has less serious medical consequences than a
regular Taser stun, in which a person is shot with two metal probes
that pump electrical currents through the body.

But the report found that there can be “permanent …
dermatological impairments associated with the use of a Taser in
(drive) stun mode.” The report also emphasized that drive
stun shocks are not fatal and the long-term physical implications
are not serious.

While Tabatabainejad was on his way to the CLICC Lab door at
around 11:30 p.m., university police officers approached him, and
following an apparent confrontation, he was hit with a Taser by
UCPD officers at least four times.

State Sen. Sheila Kuehl, D-Santa Monica, said she hopes the
incident will be investigated.

“I was on campus when the LAPD came during the anti-war
demonstrations. (The video of the Powell incident) was eerily
similar because they went into the libraries and cleared them out
““ they were hitting people and it was really inappropriate,
and this video reminded me of that era,” she said.

Another point of contention is when and how Tasers should be
used during an interaction between an individual and a law
enforcement official.

The ACLU report recommended restrictions on Taser use.

“Other groups against whom police should never use a Taser
are those who are already restrained (i.e. handcuffed),” the
report read.

Video evidence suggested that Tabatabainejad’s wrists had
already been restrained by the third time he was stunned, which
eyewitness reports confirmed.

UCPD Assistant Chief of Police Jeff Young has said that during
Tuesday’s incident, officers likely had no way of knowing
whether Tabatabainejad was armed, and said the force was used based
on Tabatabainejad’s uncooperative behavior.

But Dolovich said it often takes more than strong language on
the part of a suspect to justify use of force by police.

“Given the setting, given that you have Powell Library,
unless there’s some evidence that the student was more than
just verbally belligerent, it would be hard for me to believe (that
police had no other way to restrain him),” she said.

According to Daily Bruin archives there was significant debate
about Taser use and effectiveness when UCPD bought the weapons in
2004.

And in April 2004 the Daily Bruin reported it was unlikely UCPD
would purchase Tasers due to the additional cost and training as
well as the potential of officers to mistake them for real guns in
a heated situation.

With reports from Julia Erlandson, Bruin senior
staff.

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