Baltimore’s Police Commissioner Tells “60 Minutes” He’s Wary About Taser Use

November 14, 2011

Baltimore Police Commissioner Frederick H. Bealefeld III tells “60 Minutes” that he’s wary of police using Tasers to control suspects. The CBS news show broadcast a segment Sunday night about how officers overuse the device.

Police agencies have long tried to find ways to control combative suspects without resorting to deadly force. The Taser, which sends electricity into a person’s body, is billed as a non-lethal way of controlling people.

People have died from being hit by Tasers, and officials debate the merits of the device constantly (here’s one study from Stanford University). The National Institute of Justice conducted a study on Taser deaths in 2008, and followed it up with another study in 2011.

The Sun’s crime report, Justin Fenton, and health reporter Meredith Cohn, explored the use of Tasers in Maryland in an article last year, after the death of a Baltimore County man.

We can’t recall Bealefeld speaking out about Tasers before, but he did testify in 2009 against civilians being able to use them, calling the Taser an “extraordinary weapon.”

The CBS show concentrated on police using Tasers too much, as a substitute for other ways of controlling suspects.

Two Baltimore police officers interviewed by the show said the loved Tasers and Bealefeld himself said his own troops are clamoring for them. Here’s the exchange with Bealefeld from the show, from the “60 Minutes” website:

Tom Smith: It’s putting out about 2.1 milliamps. It’s a very, very low current. The battery that runs this is basically the same battery that would run a digital camera.

So while the voltage is high the amount of electricity or current the Taser puts out is low. And that’s the difference between being electrocuted and living to tell about it.

Frederick Bealefeld: I’m not a huge fan.

Baltimore’s Police Commissioner Frederick Bealefeld may be Taser’s most reluctant customer.

Bealefeld: I recognize, one, the utility of this device. It makes the public safer in a lot of situations. It has helped contribute, in some measure to reductions of deadly force.

David Martin: But you’re not a fan?

Bealefeld: On a personal level, no. I’m absolutely not a fan.

Bealefeld is a third generation cop who believes there are better ways than Taser to avoid the use of force.

Bealefeld: If you don’t emphasize the training, and that’s a key component, and the oversight, the use of them – it could lead you down a path of over dependence on that device. That’s been a chief concern that I’ve had. That we don’t substitute our basic responsibility to a short-cutted method of deploying a Taser to get people to comply.

And he believes that, even though the Baltimore police department has used Tasers for over 10 years.

Bealefeld: Even now less than 500 of the devices are deployed across the whole police department. I have 2,800 sworn members.

David Martin: What do the ones who don’t get a Taser think about it?

Bealefeld: They’re clamoring for ’em.

Officer James McCartin has carried a Taser for three years.

David Martin: Do they all want it?

McCartin: I think everyone wants one, yes.

David Martin: You know they’re not all going to get it. I just talked to the commissioner.

McCartin: Well, I got mine.

Sergeant Harvey Baublitz who patrols Baltimore’s inner harbor with its tourists and night life has only used his once but it frequently comes in handy.

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