Tasers allow police to subdue disobedient suspects without resorting to actions more violent. Electronically stunning someone who is resisting arrest is preferable to an officer having to employ physical force or draw their handgun. This is safer for everyone involved — if carried out properly.
Since Connecticut cops first became armed with Tasers in 2005, stun guns have been used in 13 arrests that led to deaths of suspects. Three of those fatalities occurred in Meriden, a disproportionate amount that does not necessarily indicate abuse, but certainly warrants policy review by department administrators.
Most recently, 43-year-old Noel Mendoza was killed in a confrontation with city officers in which he was tasered. However, Mendoza fits the bill of a suspect who should have been stunned for restraint. On June 9, he drove a car into a gated parking lot behind the Meriden police station. According to reports, he strenuously resisted arrest, appeared intoxicated, claimed to have smoked and swallowed cocaine before driving, and had a lengthy criminal record, including burglary, narcotics and 14 years in prison.
Police should exercise necessary force in dangerous situations brought about by threatening individuals like Mendoza. Moreover, given his extensive history of narcotics, plus the multiple cocaine doses he had consumed prior, Mendoza’s death could have been caused by his body, already compromised by drugs, failing upon the additional stress of a physically taxing arrest. Was the Taser just a contributing factor?
What happened on May 9 is more difficult to defend. City officers tasered two individuals who, based on cell-phone video of the incident, passively resisted orders to exit their vehicle during a traffic stop. This would seem contradictory to Meriden policy, which permits firing electronic-control weapons only when suspects actively resist, like Mendoza. Although both men unreasonably refused commands to step out of the car (police reports note their erratic driving, intoxicated appearance and sudden movements), it is questionable whether the situation had sufficiently escalated to justify stunning.
Consequently, Meriden law-enforcement leaders would be wise to institute regular training sessions on appropriate use of Tasers. Officers should be routinely educated about what constitutes policy parameters, so that suspects are not needlessly harmed and, if possible, can be subdued through alternative, less-severe methods.
If properly employed, stun guns have an effective place within the police arsenal. That is, for judicious use in hazardous circumstances that legitimately require countering a violently resisting force with a powerful and potentially deadly weapon, for the sake of upholding safety.