N.J. relaxes policy on police use of stun guns

A new policy in New Jersey allows police to use stun guns to de-escalate an incident more quickly. (AP file photo)

A new policy in New Jersey allows police to use stun guns to de-escalate an incident more quickly. (AP file photo)

In an attempt to cut down on the use of deadly force by police, New Jersey is giving cops more leeway to use stun guns.

Acting Attorney General John Hoffman issued a directive Thursday allowing police to use a stun gun on a person whom the officer believes could injure himself or herself or another person, a lower standard than in years past.

Formerly, officers were permitted to deploy the weapons only if they believed it “necessary to prevent the person … from causing death or serious bodily injury to him/herself, an officer or another person,” criteria that are also required for the use of deadly force.

Officials said the previous restrictions discouraged some officers from using their stun guns, and the new policy allows police to use stun guns to de-escalate an incident more quickly.

Law enforcement “will be in a position to neutralize a situation before it escalates to the point at which lethal or deadly force would be used,” said Hoffman. “Our goal here is to save as many lives as possible.”

Police in New Jersey have used stun guns more than 60 times since November 2012, according to the attorney general’s office, one of which resulted in “significant injury.”

“Police officers have been crying for this [rule change] for a long, long time,” said Denville Police Chief Christopher Wagner, who is also president of the New Jersey State Association of Police Chiefs.

“Stun guns are great tools we can use in between physical force and deadly force.”

But some civilian advocates said the policy change will lead to a spike in police use of stun guns with destructive results.

“What we’ve seen around the country is ‘mission creep,’ and stun guns begin to be used in scenarios where they shouldn’t be,” said Ari Rosmarin, public policy director of the ACLU of New Jersey. “In fact, serious injury or death to civilians goes up.”

Rosmarin also questioned whether stun guns are actually as “non-lethal” as advertised, pointing to cases across the country in which people have been injured or died after being shocked by a Taser.

A recent study by a Drexel University researcher found that those shocked by a stun gun exhibit diminished brain function for about an hour.

The attorney general’s office distributed nearly $390,000 to state police departments last year, which helped purchase 362 news stun guns.

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