State College Borough and Penn State Release Taser Advisory Committee Report and Recommendations
State College, PA – A final report released today (Oct. 21) from an independent Taser Advisory Committee looking at policies and practices of both State College Police and Penn State Police, recommends more public education on Tasers and more transparency for the policies that govern their use.
In February 2015, after an 18-month joint study on the use of Tasers, the State College and Penn State police departments authorized officers to carry and use Conducted Energy Devices manufactured by TASER International. The devices, commonly called Tasers and carried by police nationwide, use an electrical impulse to briefly immobilize violent or resisting suspects, providing a safer option for arrest.
Shortly after the joint implementation of the use of Tasers, the Taser Advisory Committee was appointed by State College Manager Thomas Fountaine and Penn State Senior Vice President for Finance and Business/Treasurer David Gray to serve as an independent advisory group. The committee was charged with conducting an external review of the various use-of-force reports involving Tasers during the first year of their authorization. The committee also was asked to make recommendations on policies, procedures and training regarding the use of Tasers.
Over a 12-month period, beginning at the end of May 2015 and ending in June 2016, the advisory committee held eight meetings and also met quarterly to review reports from police of both departments on Taser draws and stuns, or discharges carried out by law enforcement. The group also discussed the policies of each police department regarding Taser deployment.
“The protection of our students, faculty, staff and visitors, as well as our officers, is the top priority for University Police and Public Safety, and this careful review by the Taser Advisory Committee is essential and encouraging. The committee raises common questions and has provided measured scrutiny on an important policing issue,” said Charles Noffsinger, associate vice president for University Police and Public Safety. “Building trust and confidence within our community for the methods our police use and under what circumstances is critical to our safety operations.”
In the year examined, the committee looked at the number of times either police department drew a Taser or discharged a Taser. State College Police Department discharged a Taser six times, while Penn State Police have not yet discharged a Taser. In addition, there have been no complaints filed related to any Taser use by either policing unit. Officers are required to successfully complete training before a Taser is issued, and must also complete annual refresher training.
"The Committee was impressed with the care taken by the Borough and the University in developing a use-of-force continuum, which includes Taser. While Taser use is very limited, the committee found the deployment to be necessary and appropriate, resulting in reduced harm to all parties and enhanced officer safety," said Mark Bergstrom, chair of the Taser Advisory Committee.
Some of the recommendations embraced by both departments include efforts to improve the following information collected about the use of Tasers:
- Substance abuse and mental illness as contributing factors
- Reasons for multiple deployments
- Injuries sustained during deployment and
- Demographic data
The committee found that the State College Police Department Policy Manual effectively addressed the administrative and supervisory police policies, procedures and training regarding Taser use, and was able to provide some additional recommendations on policies that would be beneficial to address specific situations and improving transparency. One limitation of the committee’s review was the lack of access to the University’s Taser policy. The policy was withheld in accordance with past practices. Going forward, Penn State’s Noffsinger said that the University plans to follow the advisory committee recommendation and share its Taser policy with the community. Penn State Police also will continue educational efforts on the use of the device in policing situations.
“The Taser Advisory Committee was successful in meeting its purpose of providing an external process for the review of the use of Taser by Borough and Penn State officers. The committee also provided the community with a mechanism to share concerns about the use of Taser devices,” said John Gardner, State College Borough Chief of Police.
Throughout the report, education to the public on the use of Tasers is highlighted frequently. The committee recommends continuing education on Taser use, recognizing Taser as an appropriate tool in the use-of-force continuum, and acknowledging the responsible use of Taser, and possible benefits.
Independent studies have shown the use of Tasers to be as safe or safer than other use-of-force methods available to law enforcement. The devices also have been shown to reduce the odds of injury for both officers and suspects. Often, just the existence of a Taser is enough to de-escalate what could otherwise become a violent situation, according to research.
In addition, the advisory committee report also recommends the preparation and release of an Annual Report, which would provide an accounting of Taser deployment during each year.