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Politics and Government

Syracuse tasing incident leads to policy discussion

Ellen Abbott/WRVO

A recent case involving a disabled man tased by Syracuse Police on a CENTRO bus in May has Syracuse lawmakers looking into the police department's policy on using the electronic devices. In a meeting this week, common councilors heard from advocates who would like to see that policy updated.

No one from the leadership of the Syracuse Police Department or Mayor Stephanie Miner's administration was in Common Council chambers for a committee discussion regarding the use of police Tasers. But members of the disabled community weighed in on the issue, like Sally Johnston, president of Disabled in Action of Greater Syracuse.

"We need to have in this city a more clear policy of Taser use so that all of us can feel safe," Johnston said.

Agnes McCrea from Arise also spoke. "We're talking about moving forward with the rights and protections of all our citizens, including persons with disabilities," McCrea said.

Miner's spokesman, Tim Carroll, says the administration would be glad to talk about the issue, but due to the fact that there are two lawsuits against the city regarding Taser use, it wouldn't be a good idea to comment at a public meeting.

"The forum today that the council had was just probably going to put our people in the position that could jeopardize the city in various lawsuits and eventually hit us in the pocketbook," Carroll said. "We didn't think that was the best forum.  But we do welcome any constructive suggestions."

And there are suggestions. From the Central New York Chapter of the New York Civil Liberties Union, spokeswoman Barrie Gewanter says among other things, there should be a more specific set of guidelines that would, for example, outline situations in which to avoid Taser use.

"The best thing to do would be to sit down with community leaders and collaboratively try to enhance the policy," Gewanter said.

Councilor Khalid Bey hopes the meeting serves as a springboard to a discussion of what he calls a police culture that "creates citizens who are afraid to approach police because they think they might get a beating."

"When you have a population that is generally afraid of cops, a criminal population, and you have a non-criminal element who too are afraid of the police officers, I think there's something wrong with how the people who are out to protect us, are treating us."

Lawmakers expect to meet with police department officials privately about this, and another meeting could be in the works.