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Wichita report: Tasers used more on blacks

  • The Wichita Eagle
  • Published Tuesday, Nov. 1, 2011, at 12:09 a.m.
  • Updated Tuesday, Nov. 1, 2011, at 6:22 a.m.

Black people are five to six times as likely as white people to have Tasers used on them by Wichita police, according to city statistics released Monday.

And more black people than white people were stunned with Tasers in the first seven months of 2010, the most recent statistics immediately available.

Police Chief Norman Williams said he thinks the numbers don't necessarily show that officers are more likely to use a Taser on black suspects than white suspects.

"It doesn't matter what race or gender you are, if you comply with the officer, you're not going to get tased," he said.

According to the U.S. Census, black people make up 11.5 percent of the city population.

Over the past five years, since Tasers were introduced into the police arsenal, 42.2 percent of people they've been used on are black, city records show.

Non-Hispanic white people make up 64.5 percent of the city population and 46 percent of the people who were stunned with Tasers, the records show.

The race statistics were part of a larger report presented Monday to the City Manager's Review Board, a panel appointed to try to build trust between police and residents.

In addition to the report, the board received information on the medical effects of Tasers and a demonstration of the usually nonlethal weapon, which fires darts attached by wires to a high-voltage electrical source. A person hit with Taser darts generally loses the ability to resist officers until the current is cut.

The report showed that in 2007, the city's record year for Taser usage, the weapon was used on 556 white people and 475 black people. That gap has been narrowing ever since.

In 2008, Tasers were used on 431 white people and 386 black people.

In 2009, they were used on 119 white people and 113 black people.

And for the period in 2010 from Jan. 1 until July 22, where the city records stopped, Tasers had been used on 54 black people, compared with 52 white people.

Sgt. Robert Bolin, who briefed the Review Board, said after the meeting that nearly all cases of Taser usage are in response to calls of a crime in progress and that police have no control over the racial breakdown of the people involved, be they suspects, victims or witnesses.

"We have no control over who decides to resist and who doesn't," he said.

The records also show that Taser use has declined dramatically since peaking in 2007, a year after the weapons were introduced in Wichita.

In 2007, police used Tasers on 1,153 people, the records show.

In 2009, the most recent full year of data, police used Tasers on 296 people — a 74 percent reduction.

Bolin said reductions like that are common across the country "as it gets out that officers have them and are willing to use them as necessary."

He added that after a couple of years, "the public starts to understand what they are" and they don't want to get shot with one.

Reach Dion Lefler at 316-268-6527.

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