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November 23, 09

NEWS / Attorney General Approves Limited Use of Electronic Stun Guns for Law Enforcement Officers

Supplemental use of force policy restricts stun gun use to dangerous situations involving emotionally disturbed individuals

Trenton, NJ -- Attorney General Anne Milgram today issued a supplemental use of force policy that allows law enforcement officers the use of electronic stun guns in limited circumstances involving emotionally disturbed individuals.

The supplemental policy follows the recommendation of an Attorney General’s Advisory Committee on the use of less-lethal force. The use of stun guns will only be allowed by trained law enforcement officers who have completed a Police Training Commission-approved course. No officers could carry or use the guns without authorization from his or her department’s chief executive.

The number of officers authorized to carry or use the weapons will be determined by the size of the department, from one officer in a municipality with 25,000 or fewer residents to four officers in a municipality with 75,000 or more residents. In addition, officers who are members of SWAT teams, or emergency response units, can be authorized to carry the electronic weapons.

“This is the first time in this state that officers are going to be authorized to carry and use stun guns in any capacity,” Attorney General Milgram said. “Given this important shift in policy, it is prudent to have a limited initial deployment that provides for adequate controls, training and accountability measures so that we can evaluate the use of such devices.”

Noting that stun guns can be potentially deadly weapons, the policy states that the use of conducted energy devices in limited situations may allow police officers to resolve confrontations without escalating to a level where deadly force is required, and reduce the risk of injuries to persons subject to arrest, the arresting law enforcement officers, and innocent by-standers.

“This policy limits the use of the devices to ensure that officers recognize the lethality and seriousness of the weapons, deploy them consistent with that lethality, and use the weapons only where appropriate,” the policy states.

Possession of stun guns will remain prohibited except for trained law enforcement officers. The State Police, in consultation with the Division of Criminal Justice, will be responsible for developing a list of specifications of stun guns that may be deployed by police in New Jersey.

The Attorney General’s Use of Force Policy provides that deadly force may only be used when an officer reasonably believes that such action is immediately necessary to protect an officer or another person from imminent danger of death or serious bodily injury.

The supplemental policy states that under certain circumstances stun guns may be appropriate weapons for law enforcement officers to use against an emotionally disturbed person, which is defined as a person who appears to be mentally ill or temporarily deranged and is conducting himself or herself in a manner that a police officer reasonably believes is likely to result in serious bodily injury to himself or herself, the officer, or others.

The use of a stun gun is authorized only if the individual who appears to be mentally ill or temporarily deranged has a weapon and the individual will not voluntarily submit to custody. In addition, the individual should be isolated and contained so that there is no chance a bystander can be hit by the electrically charged darts that are attached by wire to the weapon.

The use of stun guns is specifically prohibited as a “pain compliance” device or in a situation where a person refuses to comply with an officer’s order to move, or get on the ground, or exit a vehicle. The use of the electronic devices is also prohibited if an individual is handcuffed or in a moving vehicle. The weapons should not be used to prevent someone from committing property damage or fleeing a scene.

A conducted energy device should not be directed against a person who is situated on an elevated surface, such as a ledge or near a precipice, unless reasonable efforts have been made to prevent or minimize a fall-related injury. The stun guns also could not be used with the gun in direct contact with a person, a condition known as “drive stun mode.”

Training in the use of stun guns must include a component on how law enforcement officers should interact with emotionally disturbed persons.

Specifications for stun guns that will be allowed in New Jersey include a date and time-stamped digital record for each use and a digital recording of each firing and electrical discharge.

The Attorney General last year issued a supplemental use of force policy concerning less-lethal ammunition and the circumstances in which the ammunition should be used. That policy, too, followed recommendations of the seven-member advisory committee, which was appointed in 2007 to examine use of force policies and whether law enforcement officers should be permitted to use less-lethal ammunition and conducted energy devices designed to stun or temporarily disable people.

The first recommendation led to a supplemental policy that allowed police officers to fire less-lethal ammunition at a person only when such force is reasonable necessary to prevent that person from causing death or serious bodily injury to himself or herself, a police officer, or any other person.

The standard for using less-lethal ammunition is different from the policy concerning deadly force, which may be used when immediately necessary to protect an officer or another person from imminent danger of death or serious bodily injury.

Use of less lethal force involves a situation where the risk is reasonably foreseeable, as in the case where officers confront a suspect who is armed with a knife but refuses to disarm. The risk of death or injury is real, but not imminent until an officer is within striking distance of the suspect.

The advisory committee was co-chaired by retired Superior Court Appellate Judge Dennis J. Braithwaite and Mitchell Sklar, the executive director of the New Jersey State Association of Chiefs of Police.

Other advisory group members were Essex County Prosecutor Paula Dow; Middlesex County Prosecutor Bruce Kaplan; Robert N. Davison, the executive director of the Mental Health Association of Essex County; Deputy Attorney General Dermot O’Grady, who is the acting director of the Office of State Police Affairs in the Attorney General’s Office; and First Assistant Attorney General Ricardo Solano.




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