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Racial Disparities In Connecticut Stun Gun Use

(AP Photo/Bob Child, File)

Officers last year fired stun guns at blacks and Hispanics at a higher rate than at white suspects, and warned but didn't fire at white suspects at a higher rate than they did blacks or Hispanics, according to preliminary data from the first state to require police to document their use of stun guns.

The new data from Connecticut come as police across the U.S. face increasing scrutiny over their use of force, in the wake of high-profile fatal shootings by officers, especially of black suspects. Although stun guns have been billed as non-lethal alternatives to guns, they have resulted in deaths, and reliable information on how police use them has been lacking.

Among the figures revealed in the raw data, obtained and reviewed by The Associated Press ahead of an official report expected in coming weeks:

— State and municipal police reported 641 incidents involving stun guns last year, including 437 actual firings and 204 threats of use.

— Within the overall number of stun gun incidents, officers fired them 60 percent of the time in cases involving whites, 80 percent of the time in cases involving blacks and 69 percent of the time in cases involving Hispanics.

— Officers warned about firing but did not do so at white suspects 40 percent of the time, black suspects 20 percent of the time and Hispanic suspects 31 percent of the time.

— When officers fired their stun guns in 2015, 43 percent of the suspects were white, 35 percent were black and 21 percent were Hispanic. But when officers only threatened to use stun guns and did not fire them, 61 percent of the subjects were white, 19 percent were black and 20 percent were Hispanic.

— Thirty percent of the people involved in the overall incidents were black and 21 percent were Hispanic.

A 2014 law made Connecticut the first state to require all police departments to report every instance in which an officer discharges or threatens to use a stun gun. Researchers at Central Connecticut State University are reviewing the data and will submit a report with analysis to state officials, possibly by the end of February.

The figures don't include data from several smaller towns that didn't submit reports. Researchers have contacted them and are awaiting responses.

State officials cautioned against making quick conclusions about the figures, saying they have just begun to analyze them after the Jan. 15 deadline for police departments to submit the reports. Civil liberties advocates also said that the data appear to show racial disparities on the surface, but that more analysis is needed.

"It seems like in the cases where it was threatened but not used, there were far more white people involved," said Michael Lawlor, state undersecretary for criminal justice policy and planning. "Why that is and whether there is some other explanation, we're going to go through the data and try to figure it out."

Amnesty International has reported that at least 540 people in the United States died after being shocked with stun guns from 2001 to 2012.

The Connecticut data showed one death last year, in the community of Branford, researchers said. Media reports and the American Civil Liberties Union of Connecticut show two deaths in the state — the one in Branford and an additional one in Hartford. The reason for the discrepancy wasn't immediately clear.

Among injuries, the vast majority were from removal of the prongs that deliver the shock, researchers said.

In Connecticut, 17 people have died since 2005 after police hit them with stun guns, 12 of them minorities, according to the ACLU.

Of the new data on stun gun use, David McGuire, legislative and policy director for the Connecticut ACLU, called the statistics "alarming."

"I think this data will be helpful for policy makers and police chiefs in Connecticut to get a handle on the issue," he said.

Hartford topped the list of incidents of stun gun use at 51, followed by Norwalk (40), East Hartford (36) and state police (34). The state's largest city, Bridgeport, reported 16 uses, while New Haven had 15.

Local police officials also cautioned against making quick judgments about the data. Differences between departments, including percentages of officers carrying stun guns, make it difficult to compare cities and towns, they said.

Norwalk Police Chief Thomas Kulhawik said all 177 officers in his department have stun guns, while other departments don't require all officers to carry them. He also cautioned against comparing stun gun use figures with population race data.

"The officers don't pick and choose who's going to resist arrest or flee," Kulhawik said. "Tasers have proven to be a less lethal method that avoids injury to the officer and the suspect. Serious injuries to suspects have dropped dramatically since the Taser became a tool."

Hartford Deputy Police Chief Brian Foley said police officials are reviewing their data and plan to use the information to improve how the department serves the city. He said 136 of the department's 400 officers carry stun guns.

The Associated Press is one of the largest and most trusted sources of independent newsgathering, supplying a steady stream of news to its members, international subscribers and commercial customers. AP is neither privately owned nor government-funded; instead, it's a not-for-profit news cooperative owned by its American newspaper and broadcast members.