While overall, TASERs have been a very effective intermediate weapon and the Houston Police Department has effectively managed its TASER program, there is room for improvement , according to a performance audit released today by Houston City Controller Annise Parker. For example, the audit showed that African-American suspects are more likely to be involved in a TASER incident with Houston police officers than Latinos, Anglos and other ethnic groups. In addition, the audit found racial patterns in the use of TASERs by HPD officers. “If some officers have different coping skills that allow them to diffuse situations without deploying their TASERS as often as other officers, then those skills must be emphasized in the training process,” said Controller Parker. “I want this audit to lead to discussions with the minority community and within the Houston Police Department about how and when TASERS should be used.”

According to documentation supplied to city council, statements by Police Chief Harold Hurtt and information provided to police cadets in training sessions, TASERS were to be an alternative to deadly force. However, the audit team found nothing to indicate a reduction in the number of officer involved shootings since the introduction of TASERS. In addition, HPD’S written internal policies indicate TASERS are an intermediate weapon and not a substitute for deadly force. “I am concerned that the public may believe TASERS were to be used only as an alternative to deadly force,” Controller Parker said. “This is why it is so important that productive public dialogue and education occur. Moving forward, we need everyone to have a clear understanding that TASERS are meant to be an additional intermediate weapon for securing and controlling combative individuals.”

The audit includes 30 recommendations for additional and enhanced training, policy changes and improvements in reporting, data management and equipment accounting at HPD. It also identified the following additional patterns:

  • Among officers, there are no gender differences in the likelihood that a TASER will be used
  • Among suspects, male suspects were much more likely to be involved in a TASER incident than female suspects
  • Anglo and Latino officers were more likely than African-American officers to deploy a TASER, when a suspect was an African-American
  • African-American officers were equally likely to deploy a TASER as Anglo and Latino officers when the suspect was Anglo
  • African-American officers were equally likely to deploy a TASER as Anglo officers when the suspect was Latino
  • TASER incidents were much more common in city council districts D and H

In his official response to the audit, Police Chief Harold Hurtt writes that the TASER program “has been extremely successful in accomplishing our goals” of providing officers with additional force options, reducing injuries to officers and suspects, reducing the potential for litigation and, in limited situations, provide an alternative to deadly force.

Controller Parker and the audit team acknowledged the cooperation of the HPD in using its best efforts to provide complete and accurate data to the extent that it was feasible. Controller Parker added, “we all share a common goal to keep our city safe while ensuring fair treatment for everyone. That includes residents, visitors and our police officers.”

The audit encompassed 1,417 TASER deployments between December 2004 and June 30, 2007. The analysis was conducted by a team of experts from Mir*Fox & Rodriguez, P.C; the University of Houston, Center for Public Policy; Sam Houston State University, College of Criminal Justice; Prototype, Fusion & Modeling, LLC; Rice University and the University of San Francisco.