Professor John Eterno in the News

NYPD Taser Deployments are Misfires One-fourth of The Time

December 5, 2019 - New York Post
By Craig McCarthy

Simply stunning.

One in four times an NYPD cop fires a Taser, it's an accident, a new report found - as a police oversight agency issued its own study showing cops need more training with stun guns.

Out of the 995 Taser discharges last year, 224 of the deployments were "unintentional," according to a use-of-force report released by the department late Tuesday.

Retired NYPD Capt. John Eterno, now director of graduate studies in criminal justice at Molloy College, was shocked by the number - and pegged the misfires on a training issue that needs to be addressed.

"I could understand a few, but that's a lot," Eterno said. "It's definitely a training issue."

The annual NYPD report came a day before the Civilian Complaint Review Board released a review of complaints its handled regarding police Taser use between 2014 and 2017, which found officers and executives got differing levels of instruction on how to use the devices.

The agency acknowledged training was comprehensive, but said the instruction given to beat cops and their bosses should be equivalent.

It also suggested police rely on de-escalation tactics rather than use of force - particularly with emotionally disturbed persons.

There's currently at least 3,000 Tasers deployed by the department and more than 20,000 cops have been trained on the devices - but the rollout may have come too quickly, Eterno said.

"The reason they only rolled them out selectively at first was because of this," he said. "As you start rolling out more and more things it can be overload for the officers. There are so many things officers have to deal with adding another mechanism that might be a lot for them."

John Jay College of Criminal Justice police-science professor Maria Haberfeld said training could improve, but she can understand how mishaps happen.

"The intention might have been to pull the taser to get the compliance, not necessarily use it - but it's a stressful situation ... I can see it happening," said Haberfeld, adding "But that [number] is high."

The department prefers Tasers over firearms, specifically with EDP calls, and training is paired with de-escalation and Crisis Intervention tactics, an NYPD spokesperson said.

"It is for precisely this reason that the department has deployed Tasers to the extent that it has," a spokesman for the NYPD said. "Our guiding principle, in all cases, is to use only a reasonable level of force necessary in any situation."

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