HPD, HCSO plan to continue using Tasers

By Joel Eisenbaum - Investigative Reporter

HOUSTON - The Houston Police Department and Harris County Sheriff's Office have no immediate plans to discontinue use of Tasers following new product warning information from the manufacturer that has caused a small number of other police departments in Texas to suspend usage.

Five smaller police departments in the Dallas/Fort Worth area, including Richland Hills, Mansfield, Lake Worth, Kennedale and Benbrook, have stopped using Tasers, according to Taser International.

"They are trying to insulate themselves from liability when as history has sometimes shown, this weapon meant to disable, can ultimately kill," said Brian Wice, Local 2's legal analyst.

The most noticeable change in safety information issued by Taser International appears to be the product warning label that accompanies the weapons.

Local 2 Investigates noted two noteworthy differences when comparing a 2009 label to a 2013 label.

The device was termed an "Electronic Control Device" on the older label, and a "Conductive Electrical Weapon" on the newer label.

The older warning reads "can cause injury," the newer product warning label reads "can cause death or serious injury."

Taser International maintains the changes are not an attempt to do reduce the company's liability.

"The fact that the sticker says may cause death or injury does not make this a deadly force tool," Steve Tuttle, Vice President of Communications for Taser International, said by phone. "Also, the paperwork provided to all law enforcement agencies has, for years, discussed the possibility of death or serious injury."

"We believe they still stand behind the product," said Harris County Sheriff's Sgt. Al Blendermann.

Both the Harris County Sheriff's Office and the Houston Police Department told Local 2 Investigates their respective continuing education and training programs are the keys to using the weapon successfully.

The Houston Police Department has bought more Taser products than any other local police department in North America, according to Taser International's Steve Tuttle.

The company recently issued a press release regarding the Houston Police Department's most recent purchase.

The Houston Police Department declined our request for an on-camera interview but sent the following statement:

"The Houston Police Department implemented the use of the Conducted Energy Device (CED) in November 2004 as part of a strategy to reduce deadly confrontations between officers and suspects.  The use of the CED has not only reduced the number of injuries to officers and citizens, but has also lowered the number of instances in which officers use deadly force to subdue suspects.  Officers are required to undergo training and certification before being issued a CED and annual qualification is required.

"The Houston Police Department conducts approximately 120,000 suspect arrests each year; of which, less than one half of one percent have involved the deployment of a CED by an officer.  Additionally, it is important to note that there have been many documented incidents where the use of deadly force against a suspect would have been justified, but the arresting officer successfully deployed a CED on the suspect instead.

"The Houston Police Department realizes that any confrontation with a suspect is not without its risks but supports the use of a CED by an officer to minimize the risk of injury to the officer and the suspect."

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