A new proposal to increase the number of stun guns in police hands is hitting a series of public relations hurdles, with a Brooklyn man dying this week after being shocked by a Taser and Amnesty International warning the police department to reconsider.
Since 2001, more than 300 people ó including the Brooklyn man who was shocked by Suffolk County police officers Monday ó have died after the guns were used on them, a statement Amnesty International sent yesterday to New York reporters said.
"Given their questionable safety record, TASERs should be used with extreme caution and not become a weapon of first resort for the NYPD," the group's director, Larry Cox, said.
According to Amnesty's records, the number of fatal Taser shocks has gradually increased as more police departments seeking less lethal alternatives to firearms have bought up the stun guns. Nationwide, 69 people died last year, compared with 13 in 2002, according to the group.
Amnesty said 90% of the 300 victims were unarmed.
Police sergeants on patrol are carrying stun guns in their holsters starting yesterday. Officers in specialty units already carry Tasers with them.
Commissioner Raymond Kelly this week expressed enthusiasm about expanding the use of Tasers to police officers on patrol, but he said he would only do so through a pilot program.
The program was one of the main proposals that came out of a study by the Rand Corp. commissioned by Mr. Kelly, and would limit the Tasers to an experiment encompassing only a few precincts.
The study found that three of 45 fatal police shootings within a three-year period might have been avoided if police had been armed with Tasers.
"We would be interested in any relevant information before deciding whether to go forward with the pilot project recommended by Rand," a spokesman for the department, Deputy Commissioner Paul Browne, said.
The Suffolk County police department said the coroner is investigating what caused the death of Tony Curtis Bradway. While in police custody, officers shocked him twice with a Taser as he attempted to swallow a plastic bag containing cocaine. He died nine hours later.