SAN BENITO — Officers are starting to carry Tasers to try to avoid using deadly force in this town in which police have been involved in two fatal shootings within the last two years.
Now, the police department has set policy for officers’ use of the new Tasers, so-called stun guns used to temporarily immobilize noncompliant suspects.
City commissioners approved the Texas Police Chiefs Association’s Less-Than-Lethal Weapons Policy following the Tasers’ purchase.
“Part of the implementation process included review, revision and inclusion of a policy that met legal reviews by both the city attorney and the Civil Service attorney,” city spokesman David Favila stated, referring to City Attorney Mark Sossi and Civil Service attorney Ricardo Navarro.
“The TPCA policy is a model recommended for agencies in the state of Texas,” he stated. “It went through multiple legal reviews before being endorsed by the TPCA.”
Option to use of deadly force
In July, commissioners approved the $69,240 purchase of the TaserX26P weapons from Axon.
Assistant City Manager Fred Bell recommended the purchase to give officers an option to the use of firearms and deadly force.
“In order to better prepare the San Benito police officers for high-stress calls and situations that may result in deadly force, one piece of less-than-lethal equipment the officers do not have is the Taser,” Bell told commissioners. “Tasers are an additional tool officers have to avoid having to resort to using a firearm.”
“While the use of force is an unfortunate risk for everyone, departments should be proactive in providing the officers training, tools and equipment necessary to minimize the level of force used,” he said. “Tasers provide an additional tool for the officers to use in order to reduce the risk of the officer and subject being seriously injured or worse.”
Bell said his survey showed officers wanted the option of using Tasers.
“The overwhelming response was ‘yes,’ they would like to be issued this equipment as an additional tool in order to avoid having to use deadly force,” Bell told commissioners.
Two of the department’s officers were being certified to train police in the use of Tasers, he said.
“All officers within the SBPD were required to be trained and certified on the Taser before it is implemented by the department,” Favila stated.
Policy governs Tasers’ use
Last month, commissioners approved the Texas Police Chiefs Association’s Less-Than-Lethal Weapons Policy to oversee officers’ use of Tasers.
“In the interest of public safety, the department provides officers with a range of less-than-lethal options,” the policy states.
The Police Chiefs Association describes Tasers as “a conducted energy device … used to electronically disrupt muscular control. It allows officers to quickly subdue a resisting subject without having to resort to the use of deadly force.”
The policy states officers are required to annually qualify in the use of Tasers.
“Training shall cover the mechanics of the weapon, sound safety practices and departmental policy governing the use of the weapon and use of force,” the policy states.
The policy states Tasers “may be utilized in situations when necessary to subdue a noncompliant subject when lesser means of control have not been successful and the subject is physically resisting officers.”
The policy allows officers to use Tasers “to debilitate a subject who poses an immediate threat of serious bodily injury or death to himself/herself, the officer or others.”
“Officers should be aware that multiple activations and continuous cycling of a (Taser) appear to increase the risk of death or serious injury and should be avoided where practical,” it states. “Officers should consider (Taser) exposure lasting longer than 15 seconds may increase risk of death or serious bodily injury.”
“No more than one officer at a time should activate a (Taser) against any person,” it states.
The policy restricts officers’ use of Tasers.
“The act of verbal noncompliance shall not justify the use of the … weapon,” the police states.
Officers are prohibited to use Tasers against pregnant women, children and juveniles, frail and sick subjects, elderly subjects, those weighing less than 100 pounds and wheel-chair bound subjects “unless the situation would justify a high-level of force, including deadly force,” the policy states.
The policy also prohibits officers from using Tasers against subjects driving vehicles, those with known heart conditions and subjects wearing pacemakers or “other biomedical devices sensitive to electronic current.”
The policy restricts officers from targeting Tasers at suspects’ heads, necks, front chest areas and genitalia.
“Preferred targeting is the center mass of the subject’s back,” it states.
The policy calls on officers to issue verbal warnings before using Tasers.
“Prior to deploying the (Taser), whenever reasonable and practical, verbal warnings shall be issued to the subject which will allow the subject the opportunity to comply with the officer’s commands,” it states.
Two police-involved shootings
The city’s purchase of Tasers comes about 18 months after two police officers and two Cameron County Precinct 5 deputy constables were involved in the fatal shooting of Ricardo Treviño III, 21, of San Benito, who was unarmed when he was shot 12 times in his car after a pursuit ended in El Ranchito in December 2018.
In October, April Flores filed a six-count federal lawsuit charging officers used “excessive” force to kill her son.
In August, a police officer fatally shot Samuel Mata, 21, after he allegedly pulled a pistol following a struggle with his mother in his front yard.