Interim Taser policy takes effect this week

The Eugene Police Department is planning to change its Taser use policy to comply with a federal court ruling, until the department’s final policy outlining the use of the electric stun guns is complete.

“Mostly the language (of the interim Taser policy) is designed to bring us into compliance with the ninth circuit,” Lt. Doug Mozan said. “And also to add a few tweaks that the chief asked for to tighten our policy.”

Mozan said he expected the interim policy to go in to effect “hopefully within the next 48 hours.”

“One of the threshold changes you’re going to see is the change from a risk to the officer’s safety, physical safety, which is what the current policy reads, to a risk of physical injury to the officer,” Mozan said.

The interim policy will act as the guideline for when an officer is justified to use a Taser until the Use of Force Committee finishes developing the final policy. The committee hopes to present the final policy to the full police commission as early as February, said EPD spokeswoman Melinda Kletzok.

On Dec. 28, the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals found Officer Brian McPherson of the Coronado Police Department was not justified to use a Taser on Carl Bryan. The court found that Bryan did not present a threat to the officer as he stepped toward the officer.

Bryan was between 15 and 25 feet away from McPherson when he was Tasered.

In order to comply with the court ruling, EPD is adopting the interim policy.

At last night’s Use of Force Committee meeting, about 20 citizens listened to committee members continue to ratify recommendations for a final policy. The committee took into consideration both the ACLU and the EPD’s Taser use suggestions.

“I want to take a minute to thank the ACLU for their comments, research and recommendations,” said Juan Carlos Valle, Use of Force committee member.

Joe Alsup, Use of Force Committee chair, reported that Police Chief Pete Kerns is now requiring crisis intervention training for all officers who carry a Taser. 

The committee discussed using a “modifier” word to take the place of the word “serious” in the policy when discussing a “serious” crime.

“I’ve already heard some concerns from the staff involving the word ‘serious,'” said committee member John Ahlen. Tamara Miller agreed, calling serious “too strong of a word.”

Valle wanted to remind the public that the policy the committee will ultimately ratify serves only as recommendation; the full commission must accept it to become an official policy.

“This committee is only an advisory committee,” he said. 

At the beginning of the committee meeting, members of the community voiced their opinions on Taser use.

“It’s not non-lethal because it does kill people,” audience member James Black said. “It dumbs down people in small gatherings who protest nonviolently.”

Another audience member, Ruth Demler, said she believed using a Taser should be the very last resort, next to using a gun.

“Some of us are questioning whether the police department is ready to use the Tasers at all,” she said. 

The Use of Force committee plans to meet again next Wednesday. The location of the meeting has not yet been announced.

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