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Why don’t police departments report Taser totals?

Minnesota needs a law requiring reports for Tasers and other less-than-lethal uses of force.

There are ample numbers of videos online showing officers Tasering suspects — and many more people quick to jump into the controversy about just what those videos mean. Concerned citizens pile into comments sections to both attack and defend the officers. The forces are split to an extent matched only by party divides.

James Warden

Yet there is one thing the two sides should be able to agree on: We don’t have any good data about how often such incidents happen because nothing in state law requires agencies to report them. 

This stands in stark contrast to other vital details that law-enforcement agencies collect. State law requires law-enforcement agencies to report firearm discharges and vehicle pursuits. Agencies also report attacks on officers and, of course, minute details about the types of crimes committed. The news media publish stories on the annual reports as they’re released, and everyday citizens can check out the totals on Bureau of Criminal Apprehension and city websites whenever they please. 

What a law should require

Minnesota needs a law requiring similar reports for Tasers and other less-than-lethal uses of force. Specifically, the law should require: 

  • Law-enforcement agencies to report use of force totals to the Bureau of Criminal Apprehension and their own communities each year; 
  • Those reports to detail how often agencies use different categories of force: electrical weapons (such as Tasers and stun guns), projectile weapons (such as rubber bullets and bean bag guns), chemical irritants (such as tear gas and pepper spray), blunt force weapons (such as batons) and bodily force (such as chokes, strikes or joint locks); 
  • The reports to detail demographic information about those whom the force is used against; and 
  • Law-enforcement agencies to report the number of no-knock warrants conducted each year. 

Collecting this data would not be difficult or expensive. As noted above, the BCA already collects similar data for other types of incidents. Law-enforcement agencies could simply add a checkbox to the reports that officers already complete. 

Big benefits

Meanwhile, the benefits would be huge. Policymakers and law-enforcement leaders would have better information to judge the effectiveness of police practices. Citizens would have better context for incidents that they now only hear about in the most controversial circumstances. 

Most important, everyone would see increased transparency. Government officials, officers, journalists and everyday Minnesotans could identify the agencies that use the most and least force and, for the first time, start trying to make sense of the trends. 

Minnesota is already a leader when it comes to collecting vital information. Unlike our state, many others have chosen not to track officer-involved shootings. 

It’s time for Minnesota to lead the way again.

James Warden is a former reporter who spent nearly a decade covering communities in Wyoming and Minnesota, as well as the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. 

WANT TO ADD YOUR VOICE?

If you’re interested in joining the discussion, add your voice to the Comment section below — or consider writing a letter or a longer-form Community Voices commentary. (For more information about Community Voices, email Susan Albright at salbright@minnpost.com.)

Comments (2)

  1. Submitted by Pat McGee on 12/11/2014 - 10:32 am.

    Reporting requirements

    Who is going to pay for the software modifications to record and track the information? It doesn’t come free.

  2. Submitted by James Warden on 12/11/2014 - 07:04 pm.

    False choice

    There are lower cost options that wouldn’t require software modifications. Some departments may be able to add new data fields through their existing software. Those that can’t could use something as simple as Microsoft Excel or Access to enter in incidents as they come in. We’re talking about an annual report, not real-time mapping of incidents. In either case, departments would eventually include the requirement in their bidding specifications whenever it came time to update their software. This isn’t something new. We already do this with numerous other types of law enforcement data.

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