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Crime & Justiceby Mark Reutter6:22 pmOct 9, 20140

750 more Tasers approved for Baltimore Police

In a split vote, the city spending board approves a $1.1 million contract to stock up on the electroshock weapon

Above: A Taser being deployed, from the cover of the state’s 2009 report “Task Force on Electronic Weapons.”

By a 3-2 vote, the Board of Estimates yesterday awarded $1.1 million to an Arizona-based company to supply Baltimore Police with about 750 Tasers, supplementing the 1,165 Tasers ordered last December as part of the department’s objective to arm each officer with an electroshock weapon.

City Council President Bernard C. “Jack” Young and Comptroller Joan Pratt cast “no” votes, while the three members of the Rawlings-Blake administration voted “yes.”

Finance Director Henry J. Raymond, sitting in for Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake, who did not attend yesterday’s meeting, approved the expenditure, together with City Solicitor George Nilson and Department of Public Works Director Rudolph Chow.

Last year, Taser International Inc. was awarded a contract to supply Tasers to the police, with four one-year renewal options. Yesterday, the spending panel exercised the first year renewal.

“We currently have 1,165 of Model X26p and 250 of Model X26, which are being phased out,” said Sarah Connolly, a spokeswoman for the Baltimore Police Department. “Officers assigned to patrol are being issued the Tasers first.”

According to the company’s invoice to the city, each X26p Taser has a base price of $877.97, with another $52.95 for a holster, $62.26 for a battery pack and $269.99 for a four-year warranty.

Adding in the cartridges (at $27.24 each) and deducting for a volume discount, each Taser costs taxpayers about $1,260.

Better Spent on Training, say Young and Pratt

Yesterday’s contract was passed without discussion by the board, in a voice vote with other spending items.

Asked today why Young voted against the expenditure, his spokesman, Lester Davis, said he believed the police department has not sufficiently trained officers in the use of the weapon.

From a video of a Sept. 23 incident in which city police used a Taser (the flash of yellow) at an East Baltimore nightclub.

From a video in which police used at least two Tasers (see the flash of yellow at center of picture) to subdue a suspect outside a Greenmount Avenue nightclub.

“He would like to make sure that proper training is in place prior to providing officers with additional equipment that could be used to apply lethal force,” Davis said.

In an interview today with The Brew, Pratt said the funds should go toward training officers about other ways to settle confrontations “given the  recent tensions between residents and a few police officers not representative of the department.”

Pratt also cited the safety issue, saying, “They are Tasering citizens who have health issues and can be permanently injured.”

George V. King Incident

Tasers can be lethal if used repeatedly in prolonged (beyond five second) discharges. The weapon has been linked to four deaths and an unknown number of injuries since 2004, according to David Rocah, attorney for the American Civil Liberties Union of Maryland. Rocah said that city police department’s use of Tasers doubled from 123 in 2009 to 257 in 2012.

Last May, George V. King was reportedly Tasered five times by an officer called to Good Samaritan Hospital after the patient became disruptive. The unarmed teenager went into a coma and died a week later. Connolly said the matter is still under investigation.

Last month, the spending board paid $63,000 to a woman Tasered by police after she reported a home burglary.

While condemning excessive force by officers in the wake of several videos showing police punching and kicking citizens, Police Commissioner Anthony W. Batts said he intends to issue a Taser to every member of his department.

Yesterday’s $1.1 million award – with more Taser purchases permitted under the contract in 2015, 2016 and 2017 – will go a long way to help him achieve that goal.

In the wake of the King incident, the ACLU, a civil rights group and the King family’s attorney called for a moratorium on Taser use by police and a review of the policy.

Asked how the BPD responded to those demands, Connolly said, “The policy is currently under review.”

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