Turning to Tasers

Phoenix police became the first in the country to use Tasers, but will that decrease shootings?

By Jessica Hoffmann Nov 01, 2007

After major stories in local media pointed to high rates of police shootings of civilians, the Phoenix Police Department in 2003 became the first big-city department in the U.S. to systematically implement the use of Tasers. (Taser International, the world’s largest manufacturer of the weapons, is headquartered in Scottsdale.) Although initial reports suggested that the use of Tasers had led to a decrease in the number of officer-involved firearms shootings, subsequent years’ records do not indicate any notable improvement. In fact, after a drop in 2003, the number of fatal police shootings in Phoenix rose back up to 14 in 2004. Further, Taser shootings themselves have been implicated in the deaths of several civilians. Keith Graff, 24, died after being Tased for 84 seconds by a Phoenix police officer in 2005. In July 2007, 49-year-old Ronald Marquez died after being shot with Tasers by Phoenix police–and the local East Valley Tribune celebrated it as a victory, because Marquez had allegedly been in the progress of strangling his three-year-old granddaughter, and the girl was saved without any injury to officers.

In any case, Lieutenant Dave Kelly of the Phoenix Police Department said, Tasers are not meant to replace firearms. "In a one-on-one with the officer faced with a deadly-force situation, the gun is always the implement that we encourage. … We do not encourage officers to deal with those situations with a Taser." A Taser, he said, is recommended in different circumstances: "An officer has to be placed in a situation where there’s a possibility that he’s going to be injured." Tasers are not to be used, he emphasized, "in cases where the person is passively resisting." But that is a new policy, recently authorized but not yet included in the official policy handbook. It was not in effect when Keith Graff was Tased for 84 seconds straight while he offered no resistance. The officer who shot him was cleared by the Phoenix PD of any wrongdoing.