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Syracuse Police to implement new Taser guidelines next year


The Syracuse Police Department will implement new rules regarding the use of Tasers next year. The changes come as the result of a settlement of a lawsuit filed by the New York Civil Liberties Union charging Taser abuse in city schools.

The lawsuit involved the use of Tasers against two students, including one who was trying to break up a fight between other students, and another involving a diabetic student who was upset over academic issues and lying on the floor. In both cases no charges were filed, even as both students were handcuffed and taken from school.

What this settlement does, according to Barrie Gewanter, director of the Central New York Chapter of the New York Civil Liberties Union, is make it clear when Syracuse police officers and school resource officers can use Tasers.

“This policy, for the first time, says that Tasers should not be used in a coercive manner or to punish," Gewanter said. "That is very, very significant.”  

The new regulations say Tasers should be used only against aggressive subjects who pose an immediate threat, and shouldn’t be used against vulnerable populations.

“Now with this new policy it will be explicit that police cannot use this particular weapon -- and it is a weapon, it is less than lethal, but it has the possibility of causing harm -- and they can’t use it unless someone is being actively aggressive and there’s imminent danger of harm,” Gewanter explained.

Gewanter says the agreement will also force officers to follow more specific guidelines when it comes to Taser use.

“The city and its police department have agreed to use a best practices approach to guide the use of Tasers by police, not only in the schools with our youth, but on our streets with our population,” Gewanter said.

There will be training for officers starting next year as part of the department’s overall use of force policy. Gewanter suggests this might be a good time for the department to look at reviewing the department’s entire use of force policy.

"So that there’s more clarity for their officers in when to step up use of force, when to try to incorporate deescalation techniques and when to avoid unnecessarily escalating an interaction to the point where force is necessary," Gewanter said.

Ellen produces news reports and features related to events that occur in the greater Syracuse area and throughout Onondaga County. Her reports are heard regularly in regional updates in Morning Edition and All Things Considered.