Central Connecticut State University recently released a study that found taser use on racial minorities, children and people with mental illness increased in 2016.
“This latest report about police taser use shows what many community members already know: police are disproportionately using tasers against Black and Latino men and boys and against vulnerable people who are in crisis,” David McGuire, executive director of the American Civil Liberties Union of Connecticut (ACLU), said in a press release.
The study showed that 56 percent of people who were tased or threatened with tasing were minorities, 49 percent were experiencing a mental health crisis and 37 children were tased, all of which are an increase from last year according to the study.
Lieutenant Matthew Zardrowski, who oversees officer training for the UConn Police Department, said officers must go through training before they can carry a taser.
“It’s not something we issue as a part of ‘you’re hired, here’s your taser,’” Zardowski said.
Officers go through taser safety training every year whether they chose to carry one or not, even though annual training is not mandated, Zardowski said.
“Any time we can be better than a set minimum standard is, especially when it involves the use of force…we want to do that,” Zardowski said.
Officers are trained to understand the safety issues associated with using a taser on someone and how that person may be affected based on their condition, Zardowski said.
“Our goal is to mitigate a situation without using force greater than is necessary. Safety and proper use and proper application of the…equipment is paramount,” Zardowski said.
Zardowski said most officers choose to carry a taser and they are trained to know how it may, or may not be effective.
“Most officers want every tool available to them…but like any piece of equipment, it may be very effective, it may not be effective, and that’s part of the training we try to instill in officers.”
Deputy Chief Fournier said UCPD participates in Crisis Intervention Training programs and advocates peacefully deescalating a situation before resorting to the use of force.
“Your best tool is your mouth. It’s how we speak with people…and understand what they’re going through and what they’re telling us,” Fournier said.
Zardowski said officers remaining calm is an important part of intervening without using force.
“(The most effective strategy is) stepping into a situation and being open-minded and using those skills they’ve developed through training…being aware of the overall situation and constantly reevaluating,” Zardowski said.
Researchers at CCSU also performed a study on racial profiling in traffic stops which found evidence that police pull over minority drivers disproportionately to white drivers.
Zardowski said all police officers in the state of Connecticut must go through bias training.
Due to the diversity of the college campus UCPD serves, Zardowski said that he believes it is even more important for them to understand how to operate in an unbiased way.
“It’s been a push for a long time because of where we work and the resources that have been given to us to get officers involved as much as possible in any training that can help us interact with our community better,” Zardowski said.
The UCPD recently went through additional Fair and Impartial Policing training for patrol officers and supervisors.
“We felt it was necessary to have them exclusively here,” Deputy Chief Magdalena Silver said.
The training focuses on teaching officers that even “well-intentioned” people have implicit biases that can affect how they perceive a situation and how they can manage those biases to prevent them from affecting their actions.
The training also works with supervisors to teach them strategies for dealing with officers who may be acting in a biased-fashion and managing their own biases.
“You understand that every human has a bias, but we as law enforcement must remain unbiased and treat incidents for incidents not people involved,” Zardowski said.
Fournier said UCPD did not receive any complaints for biased treatment in 2016 or 2017.