Thursday, December 21, 2006

Legislatures ready for the session

Well a new day has dawned, I received a press release from Don Burnam, State Rep. Dist. 90 (in Fort Worth). No, I've received press releases before, but not as a blogger. They've all come to my inbox because of my role as a newspaper reporter.
But you know the Legislature is getting ready to start meeting again when everyone's sending out press releases on their latest bills. Here's the release from Burnam:
Rep. Lon Burnam (D-Ft. Worth), a member of the Law Enforcement Committee of the Texas House of Representatives, filed House Bill 418 which would limit the use of Tasers by law enforcement officers. Current policy allows individual police departments and officers wide discretion as to when a Taser can be used. Rep. Burnam’s bill would limit Taser use to situations in which the officer is “justified in using deadly force” as defined in the Penal Code.
“The number of incidents in which officers use tasers on unarmed people is truly alarming,” said Rep.
Burnam. “There are currently 16 documented deaths due to Taser use by police in Texas. There is a perception out there that Tasers are safe and generally harmless. That perception is dead wrong. Tasers have proven to be lethal and that’s why they should only be used in situations in which deadly force is justified.”
The situation is bad statewide: in Austin, incidents in which police officers used Tasers went from three in 2002 to 265 in 2004; in Lubbock, a lawsuit is pending after a police officer tased an unarmed man six times even though video released to the public shows he was not resisting arrest; recently in Houston, Texans football player Fred Weary was Tasered for no apparent reason as no charges were filed against him.
According to the Houston Chronicle, Tasers have been used in Houston 892 times in the last two years; in only 39 of those incidents would officers have been justified in the use of deadly force.
“All my bill says is that if you’re going to shoot someone with 50,000 volts, it should only be done when the officer is in grave danger,” Burnam continued. “If a suspect is unarmed or does not present a deadly threat to the officer, they should not be tased.”
Analyses of statistics from around the state show that Tasers are used disproportionately on minorities. In Houston, for example, police data shows that 63% of tased suspects were black.
“Tasers are being used on minorities with impunity,” said Burnam. “It needs to stop.”
I don't know if tasering is really as bad as its made to sound here, but I would rather be tasered than shot. No doubt about that.
My initial assumption would be that the amount of tasering has increased over the last few years because the number of officers with tasers has increased. Only seems logical.

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