CT police fire stun guns at blacks, Hispanics at a higher rate

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In incidents involving the use of stun guns, police in Connecticut fired them at black and Hispanic subjects at a higher rate than at white subjects in 2015, according to new, preliminary state data.

Conversely, police warned but did not fire at whites at a higher rate than for blacks or Hispanics.

The data compare stun gun incidents involving a warning versus incidents involving firing of the gun.

After a series of stun-gun related deaths, police departments around the state were required by legislation passed in 2014 to report incidents in which stun guns were drawn, and the data are part of a forthcoming report by the Institute for Municipal and Regional Policy at Central Connecticut State University.

The summary data provided to TrendCT.org Wednesday morning included a town-by-town breakdown of total incidents and racial and gender data for the whole state but not for each town.

Officials are still parsing through the hand-written data and adding them to the database. Police departments in Middlebury, Stratford, Thomaston, Weston and Winchester did not report by the Jan. 15 deadline.

An overall analysis will be available next month, said Mike Lawlor, under secretary for criminal justice policy and planning, who cautioned against drawing conclusions too quickly. The data is still incomplete and initial data is just scraping the surface, he said.

“We need to make sure we’re getting apples to apples if we’re going to compare one town to the next,” he said. For example, some police departments might have filled out a form every time a stun gun was unholstered while another department might have filled one out only if it was fired.

Connecticut is the first state in the nation to collect this level of detailed information on stun gun use, said Kenneth Barone, a policy specialist for the institute. However, he said, there might be ways to improve future data collection because the data currently collected are very general. “I think in some ways they lead to more questions than answers,” he said.

For example, on the form used to report the data, officers indicate what led them to use a stun gun, such as “crime in progress” but do not include information on what that crime was.

By next year, more departments might switch to an electronic form, which will hopefully increase participation and speed up analysis, Barone said.

Stun guns were fired in 80 percent of incidents involving black subjects, 69 percent of of incidents involving Hispanic subjects and 60 percent involving white subjects. Stun guns were fired in 100 percent of incidents involving Asian subjects, but that is based on only two incidents. There were four incidents in which a stun gun was fired at an animal and one incident involving a race or ethnicity described as “unknown.” No incidents were reported involving American Indian subjects.

Most of the stun gun incidents (93.8 percent) involved males, and 5.6 percent of cases involved females, with just under 1 percent involving animals.

Hartford and Norwalk had the highest number of stun-gun incidents, at 49 and 40 respectively. Adjusting for population, Vernon had the highest rate of stun gun incidents, at 7.2 per 10,000 residents.

According to the American Civil Liberties Union, 17 people have died in the last 10 years after law officers used stun guns.

The majority of those who died were minorities. More than 40 percent were Hispanic and almost 25 percent were African-American.

In 2011, the Connecticut ACLU and NAACP began pushing for legislation to ensure police departments were training officers in stun gun use and tracking that use. The law was finally passed in 2014.

Before this data existed, no one knew how often stun guns were used. Comprehensive data enables policy makers, officials, and watchdog groups to see whether trends exist that might need additional legislation.

“The racial disparity between who is tased and who is first warned about being tased is alarming to us,” said David McGuire, legislative and policy director for ACLU of Connecticut. “Roughly 25 percent of Connecticut are people of color, yet 55 percent of those tased without warning.”

There is also much interest in determining how often police officers give people warnings to comply with orders before using a stun gun. “It looks like white suspects get that opportunity to comply more often than minorities,” he said.

A deeper analysis will also determine what type of stun gun was used, a dry stun like a prod or darts like a stun gun.

There were some positive conclusions from the analysis of the preliminary data, said McGuire.

Somewhere around 600 stun-gun uses seems like a reasonable number for the state of Connecticut, he said, and the majority of police departments submitted reports in the first year they were required to do so.

“We’re thankful they’re taking this seriously,” said McGuire. “We think they’ll look at the data and reflect and make training adjustments.”

Deaths after stun-gun use in Connecticut
Name Age Year Town Race Link
David Werblow 41 2015 Branford White Story
Matthew Russo 26 2015 Hartford White Story
Lashano Gilbert 31 2014 New London African-American Story
Jose Angel Maldonado 22 2104 East Hartford Hispanic Story
Seth Victor 40 2013 New Britain White Story
Noel Mendoza 43 2013 Meriden Hispanic Story
Angel Hiraldo 48 2012 Meriden Hispanic Story
Ronaldo Cristiano Jr. 51 2011 Bridgeport White Story
Marcus G. Brown 26 2011 Waterbury African-American Story
Anibal Rosario Rodriguez 61 2010 New Britain Hispanic Story
Efrain Carrion 35 2010 Middletown Hispanic Story
Stephen Palmer 47 2009 Stamford Unknown Story
Donovan T. Graham 35 2008 Meriden African-American Story
David Mills 26 2007 Hamden African-American Story
Nicholas Brown 24 2006 Milford Unknown Story
Jesus Negron 39 2006 New Britain Hispanic Story
Miguel Serrano 35 2005 New Britain Hispanic Story
ACLU of Connecticut

“This is the first time that this data has been gathered at a state-wide level,” said Lawlor.

The goal was not to pass judgment on anyone— it’s to provide data to policy makers and police chiefs to help them make decisions, he said. “At least in the future, the decisions they make will be based on data instead of anecdotes so they understand what’s really happneing.”

The following table shows the number of incidents per police department and the number of incidents per 10,000 residents where applicable.

Departments in Connecticut not authorized to use electronic defense weapons:

  • Aquarion Water Co. police
  • Groton Long Point
  • Manchester Community College police
  • Old Saybrook police
  • State Capitol police
  • Supreme Court police
  • University of New Haven police
  • Western Connecticut State University
  • Yale University

What do you think?