Plan Would Arm Local Cops with Tasers

Cambridge could be first Boston-area police force to carry the electric weapons

PD) plans to arm its officers with Tasers—weapons that are used to subdue suspects by releasing a disabling electric charge—potentially making it the first Boston-area police department to add the weapon to its arsenal.

Tasers have come under increasing scrutiny because of concerns about the risk they may pose to suspects, with an Amnesty International report released last year concluding that 61 people died in the U.S. in 2005 after being shocked with a Taser gun.

Police Department spokesman Frank T. Pasquarello said in a phone interview yesterday that no money has yet been allocated to purchase Tasers. The department first made the announcement at a town forum last week.

“As of right now, there are no Tasers ordered,” Pasquarello said. “I don’t know if the money is coming in five months or in three weeks. If they come up to us in three weeks and say, ‘Here’s money for Tasers,’ then we’ll go out and buy them.”

“All that was was an informational meeting to show the community what we’re planning down the line,” he said of last week’s forum.

Cambridge City Councillor Michael A. Sullivan, co-chair of the Public Safety Committee, said that the City Council is waiting for more information on how the “public process works”—specifically, the level of CPD consultation with the public.

“We’ve asked the Police Commissioner [Ronnie Watson] to hold meetings,” said Sullivan.

But Pasquarello said that CPD does not need approval from the City Council to go forward with its plans.

“This is a legal tool that the police force is authorized to use, so we don’t need approval for its purchase,” he said.

Harvard University Police Department Spokesman Steven G. Catalano said that despite CPD’s planned move, the Harvard force has no plans to purchase Taser guns.

Critics of Tasers say that the weapons pose a problem not just because of their possible lethality, but also because of their potential for abuse.

In November of last year, University of California-Los Angeles (UCLA) student Mostafa Tabatabainejad was repeatedly shocked by a Taser by campus police in an incident that drew wide condemnation from students, faculty, and the ACLU. Videos of the incident received over 2 million views on YouTube.

But Sullivan, the city councillor, said that he knew of an instance where Tasers could have prevented the use of firearms.

He said that Cambridge Police Commissioner Ronnie Watson told him of an incident in which an officer attempted to subdue a suspect with a beanbag gun and failed. Sullivan said that the officer was forced to use his handgun in self-defense, but might have been able to subdue the suspect with a Taser had he had one.

—Nicholas K. Tabor contributed to the reporting of this story. —Staff writer Khalid Abdalla can be reached at kabdalla@fas.harvard.edu.