Top Cop Vows Probe Into Claims Police Are Misusing Taser Guns

Police Commissioner's decision follows accusations that Yiftah Region police transgressed rules pertaining to the electroshock weapon.

Police Commissioner Yohanan Danino said yesterday he intends to reexamine the way policemen use taser guns, following a query by MK Zahava Gal-On (Meretz ) prompted by accusations against officers in the Yiftah Region. Demonstrators in Sheikh Jarrah also have complained about policemen's repeated improper use of taser guns in dispersing protests, Gal-On said.

The accusations against Yiftah Region police arose after patrolmen chased and arrested a man in November who was suspected of stealing a motorbike. Patrolmen reportedly spotted the suspect, Yagur Cousin, on the motorbike, and when they signaled to him to stop, Cousin tried to escape on foot.

Taser gun.

Police chased Cousin down Tel Aviv's beachfront promenade area, and when one of the officers managed to get within 10 meters of the suspect, he shot Cousin with a taser gun. Cousin fell to the ground. He was caught and arrested.

Following his indictment, Cousin complained to his defense attorney that after he was shot the first time with the taser gun, officers shot him again while he was already immobilized on the ground.

Police rules permit the use of the electroshock weapon if there is a genuine threat to an officer or the suspect. However, the officer who arrested Cousin told the court that he had fired at the suspect even though he did not pose a threat. The officer said that he fired from eight meters away.

Dan Bauman, Cousin's defense attorney, said he uncovered data proving that "the taser is no longer being used, as is defined, for bringing violent people under control, but has become a convenient tool for carrying out any arrest, and even as a way of abusing those already under arrest."

Following a request by cousin's attorney, the court ordered three taser guns from the Yiftah Region police to be sent to a lab for testing. A chip in the weapon allows the shooter to know when and how much power was fired.

Results for two of the weapons were not definitive. Results for the third taser showed that in recent months, officers used the weapon hundreds of times. In many instances, the trigger was fired more than once, according to results.

According to data on the chip, which includes the precise time the weapon was fired, the taser was fired 292 times between January 13 and March 13, 2011. In 47 instances, the trigger was squeezed more than once. In some cases, the trigger was squeezed five to seven times with no more than 90 seconds between each shot.

In coming days, a decision is expected on whether to bring charges against a Yiftah Region patrolman who allegedly abused prisoners with a taser gun. The patrolmen was arrested by the police Internal Affairs unit.

Police deny that officers misuse the weapon.

"The operational use of the weapon is used in limited and extreme cases in which there is concern for human life," police added. "It is also important to distinguish between pulling the trigger without firing, and for training, and those used operationally, which are routinely debriefed."

The weapon is also used in training, and the triggers squeezed during training are also recorded.

Even excluding training time, the data regarding taser usage remains troubling. For example, Fridays and Saturdays show more use of the weapon than other days of the week.

Israel's police force currently has 150 taser guns in its arsenal for use by patrolmen. Only officers or senior veteran officers are allowed to use the weapon.

Police said that "the taser has been used in Israel since 2009 and the weapon has been tested in Israel and abroad by both medical and legal experts."

In the United States, where the weapon is made, the taser gun is used extensively but remains controversial. The manufacturer, Taser, says that the weapon is not lethal, but in the United States there have been hundreds of cases involving civilians who died after receiving electroshock from a taser.

The taser fires two arrow-like shots, attached to wires. The shots penetrate the skin and electric shock passes through the wires to the target.

At any point when the suspect is immobilized and on the ground, squeezing the trigger can send more electric shocks.