HARTFORD, Conn. (CBS Connecticut and AP) — More emotionally disturbed people and children were shot or threatened with stun guns by Connecticut police in 2016 compared with the previous year, according to a new report released Thursday.
Analysts at Central Connecticut State University compiled data from last year that showed officers statewide drew their stun guns 542 times, an 11 percent decrease from 2015, and shot 300 people. Of the people shot or threatened with stun guns, 38 percent were described by officers as emotionally disturbed, compared with 33 percent in 2015. Eleven percent were deemed suicidal last year.
Officers also pulled their stun guns on 37 children under 18 years old and shot 13 of them in 2016, the report said. Police drew their stun guns on 22 children and shot nine of them the previous year. Between the two years, the instances where juveniles were the targets of police stun gun use jumped 68 percent.
2016 was the second year that police statewide submitted data on stun gun use, under a 2014 law that made Connecticut the first state to require all police departments to report every instance in which an officer fires or threatens to use a stun gun.
Watertown Police Chief John Gavallas, president of the Connecticut Police Chiefs Association, said it is difficult to draw conclusions based on only two years of data that police departments have submitted.
Also, the report said, it is not entirely cdclear what officers meant when they deemed someone emotionally disturbed. Police only check a box on a form that says the person was “emotionally disturbed.”
Still, David McGuire, executive director of the Civil Liberties Union of Connecticut, called the new statistics “alarming.”
“These are people that are in a vulnerable state,” he said, referring to emotionally disturbed people. “It’s really concerning to see them make up such a large number of people who are Tased. Police officers are not trained mental health workers. They often don’t have the training or support to deal with people with mental illness.”
Gavallas said officers only fire their stun guns at people who fail to comply with their commands.
“Dealing with the mentally disturbed is very challenging,” he said. “Often those are the ones that fail to comply. The Taser is only deployed after an individual has had a reasonable opportunity to comply.”
Nearly half the people involved in police stun gun use last year were described by officers as under the influence of alcohol or drugs, or possibly intoxicated.
Police reported no deaths of people whom police shot with stun guns last year. More than 200 people suffered injuries including puncture wounds from stun gun probes, abrasions and bruises. A man did die after state police shot him with stun guns several times after a car accident in West Haven, but the medical examiner’s office determined he killed himself by cutting his wrist with a shard of glass after being combative with first responders.
Police also drew their stun guns on minorities at a slightly higher rate last year, the report said. Minorities comprised 56 percent of people involved in police stun gun use in 2016, up from 53 percent the previous year. Two-thirds of the state’s population is non-Hispanic white.
Gavallas said race isn’t a factor when officers face a person who is threatening harm, and stun guns are used as a less lethal alternative.
Of the people whom police shot with stun guns, about 44 percent were white, 34 percent were black and 21 percent were Hispanic. Of the state’s population, about 12 percent are black and 16 percent are Hispanic, according to estimates by the U.S. Census Bureau.
The percentages of minorities who were shot with stun guns may be higher than the population’s percentages because most stun gun use is in the state’s largest cities, where the populations are much more diverse and more officers have stun guns, said Ken Barone, project manager at the Institute for Municipal and Regional Policy at Central Connecticut State University.
State police led all departments with 42 stun gun uses last year, followed by New Haven with 33, Waterbury with 30, and Bridgeport, Manchester and Norwalk with 26 apiece.
Barone said analysts were still concerned, as they were last year while compiling the 2015 data, that police were underreporting stun gun use. Analysts are recommending that police also submit use-of-force reports for all stun gun incidents to provide better data and context.
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