Schenectady County

Schenectady police getting 20 more Tasers

City police will nearly double their available Tasers in the coming months, Chief Mark Chaires said

City police will nearly double their available Tasers in the coming months, Chief Mark Chaires said Thursday, with about 20 more of the devices added to the current 25.

Officers not already trained in their use will take an eight-hour course, Chaires said. The devices will then be available for officers at the station as they go out for patrol. The Tasers won’t be assigned to individual officers.

“If the situation arises, they’ll be readily available and they wouldn’t have to wait,” Chaires said.

The extra Tasers are expected to cost about $37,000, Chaires said. Drug seizure money is expected to help cover the costs, officials said. The models Schenectady uses include cameras that start recording when the weapon is fired.

The training would then come as time and funds allow. As many as 75 more members would be trained on the devices, meaning there could be overtime involved. The department has had the devices available since April, but not all officers are trained to use them.

The delay in getting them to all officers was by design, Chaires said. Rolling them out incrementally allows for policy adjustments as needed. Chaires described the first six months of use as largely uneventful. He didn’t have the exact number of times they’ve been used, but he believed it was about 11.

In some instances, Chaires said, the mere threat that the devices would be used has been enough to gain compliance from the potential targets. The devices include a red light that indicates where the Tasers are aimed, Chaires said. The sight of that also has resulted in individuals gathering themselves.

At least one of the instances where the devices was used was in August, against three attacking pit bulls. The dogs were mauling the woman, who was gravely injured, and police used the devices to get the animals off her before they could do more damage. Last month, police used a Taser to help subdue a man fleeing from a traffic stop.

The city had been exploring the possibility of Tasers for several years, even before the August 2009 fatal police shooting of a man wielding two knives. That shooting prompted calls from some for the electronic weapons. Police though, said that case, with a man with knives, would not have been a candidate for Taser use.

Likewise, officials have said, two police shootings this year also would not have been candidates. In August, a man police said had a gun was shot and killed.

In October, a man with a knife was shot and wounded inside The Daily Gazette lobby. Police said at the time that the initial officers did not have the Taser weapons. The man rushed at officers and was shot just as officers with Tasers were arriving. Authorities, though, noted that because the suspect had a knife, the Tasers would not have been appropriate to use. The suspect survived.

The devices have been in the spotlight in recent weeks after a man died following shocks in Colonie, and a New York Civil Liberties report on their use.

In the Colonie case, a man out of control in a gym was shocked four or five times by police. He had knocked over heavy gym equipment and threw items at the arriving officer. After one shock, he then got up, lifting the officer off the ground, police said.

After being subdued, the man soon stopped breathing and was pronounced dead a short time later; the cause of death is pending investigation.

Two weeks ago, the NYCLU released its report on electroshock weapon use in the region, concluding they were being consistently misused, with as many as 60 percent of the studied incidents not meeting the threshold.

Four departments were included in the study; Schenectady and Colonie were not among them.

Melanie Trimble, executive director of the Capital Region chapter, noted the Schenectady Police Department has been open to a lot of suggestions from government agencies. She also commended the use of Tasers with cameras, which make it easier to see what happens, and for the police to protect themselves against accusations of abuse.

Overall, she said, the group intends to monitor the use of the devices.

“The more the police department knows that the public is concerned about their use, they’ll be careful about using them,” she said.

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