Mansfields Police Department is no longer using Tasers, and several other North Texas cities are reviewing their policies regarding stun guns because of confusion over a manufacturers warning about the lethal nature of the devices.Mansfield Police Chief Gary Fowler banned Tasers about three weeks ago, saying he was uncomfortable with what he called heightened factory warnings that began accompanying Tasers and other electric stun guns this year.Those same warnings, along with a memo from a local law firm that represents about 40 other North Texas cities, led Burleson, Crowley, Kennedale, North Richland Hills and Richland Hills to at least review their policies regarding stun guns, or conductive electrical weapons, or CEWs.We still have all the other tools out there, Fowler said. But this one tool I believe its in the best interest of the officers not to use any longer.But a spokesman from TASER Inc. said the warnings on how the product could cause injury or death are nothing new, that they were simply reposted on the company website in March. The same cautionary language has been included in training manuals since 2009, he said.It was a miscommunication , said Steve Tuttle, a spokesman for TASER. He said the Internet led to misinformation about how the warnings were new, when that was not the case.Most of the phone calls about the intensified concern about their products came from Texas, but others from around the country have expressed concern, he said.There is nothing wrong with departments revisiting their policies and tightening them up, Tuttle said. But using a Taser is safer than using a fist, tackling someone or throwing them to the ground.Confusing disclaimerThe 2009 disclaimer reissued by TASER in March tells officers using their devices that they preferably should aim below the chest when shooting an individual in the front and recommends trying to hit someone in the back to increase the dart-to-heart distance. When possible, avoid targeting the frontal chest area near the heart to reduce the risk of potential serious injury or death, the warning states.The eight-page document also recommends limiting the amount of time someone is shocked, saying that most testing has not exceeded 15 seconds and that none has gone beyond 45 seconds. It also said that an officer should avoid multiple complete circuits at the same time without justification.But there has been some concern that the re-issued warning, which follows a number of lawsuits concerning Taser useage, makes the company less liable for any deaths or serious injuries and the public agencies and their officers more vulnerable.Attorney Allen Taylor said his law firm may have unintentionally created an overreaction among some area law enforcement officials after an internal memo on stun-gun safety got informally circulated by police officers.The research, prompted by an inquiry by one police department, found that medical studies and lawsuits increasingly were raising questions about the safety of the devices used on people who have common heart ailments or are intoxicated the two most common conditions encountered by police in stun-gun incidents, Taylor said.The memo alarmed some officials, who may have interpreted it as a recommendation that they stop using the devices. But the memos findings were intended only for the requesting police department, he said. The others may not have even had that particular device or brand of device, Taylor said.The firm later followed up with the guidance it had intended to provide for all of its client cities:Look at your policies and make sure you are comfortable with how you are telling your personnel what to do and how you are training them to do it, Taylor summarized in the memo. Just be certain you are comfortable with where you are.But Taylor and Fowler said the guidelines did change, with Taylor saying the warnings were a little different than what had previously been there.Policy reviewThe Arlington Police Department declined to comment on any other law enforcement agencies decision to discontinue use of Tasers. A majority of Arlingtons 640 sworn police officers carry Tasers, but it took years of study before the city issued them department-wide, officials said. The department moved slowly after careful evaluation to develop the right policies and training protocols before full implementation in 2010, police spokeswoman Tiara Richard said in a prepared statement.The Fort Worth Police Department doesnt have any plans to change its current policies, a department spokesman said.In Mansfield, Fowler said his decision to suspend the use of the devices was not based on the law firms research.We have been looking at this for quite a while, Fowler said. Way back to March of this year, we started seeing the warnings change Burleson stopped using Tasers on Sept. 20 while the policy and procedures were being reviewed. Police began carrying Tasers on Oct. 2 once the city attorney issued a revised opinion.Crowley Police Chief Luis Soler said his department also briefly stopped using Tasers while evaluating the policy and training procedures. Twenty-eight of his officers returned to duty armed with the devices last week.Tasers are an additional tool for us to do our jobs, Soler said. We wanted to make an informed decision, but we also wanted to make the decision quickly.Kennedale Police Chief Tommy Williams said his department has stopped using Tasers while the policy is under review.Im not particularly concerned about our policy. It is tight and well-written. Right now, what Im evaluating is the liability to my officers, Williams said. We tell them dont shoot for the head. Dont shoot for the chest North Richland Hills officers are carrying Tasers while the policy is being reviewed, but Richland Hills Police Chief Barbara Childress suspended their use. But she said that she is comfortable with the guidelines and that officers will likely start carrying Tasers again in a couple of weeks.City Manager Curtis Hawk said the city is purchasing 16 additional Tasers so that every officer can have one while on patrol. Richland Hills is spending $18,000 to buy the devices. The city currently has four Tasers that are rotated among the officers when they are out on patrol.Its something we think officers need for their safety and the safety of others, Hawk said. There will be a point in every officers career where they will need to restrain or subdue someone, he said.
Elizabeth Campbell, 817-390-7696 Twitter: @fwstliz