Two years ago last month, 18-year-old Israel "Reefa" Hernandez died after a Miami Beach Police officer who was chasing him away from a building he'd been tagging hit him in the chest with a Taser. Hernandez's death sparked national outcry about the use of the devices, particularly after Miami-Dade's Medical Examiner ruled the Taser had killed the teen — the first ruling of the sort in Florida for the supposedly "non-lethal" weapon.
Today, after a lengthy review, Miami Beach PD released a new set of rules for using the weapons. Among the changes, MBPD now encourages officers to avoid hitting suspects directly in the chest.
"Target preferred deployment areas when possible. The recommended points of aim are the rear torso below the neck area; and, front torso lower center of mass (below the chest or heart area)," the new policy reads.
Previously, MBPD's policy only discouraged cops from hitting suspects in the eyes, face or groin.
MBPD is also set to deploy a new version of the electronic weapon starting in November. The force spent just shy of $500,000 on 345 new Taser "X-2 Smart" devices; the new weapons are supposed to improve safety by incapacitating suspects with smaller amounts of electricity, and with a double-laser sight to give officers better aim.
Otherwise, the new policy clarifies that cops shouldn't use the stun gun unless they see a real threat of physical violence. Using Tasers are now prohibited "when the subject does not pose or appear to pose an immediate threat of physical force against an officer, other persons or himself/herself," the policy says.
MBPD officers are also banned from using Tasers as an "intimidation device," to scare suspects into cooperating with them.
Finally, the new policy limits the time a Taser can be used, advising officers that "the CEW should not be activated against a subject more than three (3) times or longer than 15 seconds in either a single application or cumulative applications."
The new policy has been sent to Miami Beach commissioners. Commissioner Michael Grieco says the changes, which came via Taser's own recommended policies, should help police use them more safely.
"The description of how they're to be used and when to be used can only help. And I think that by us continuing to talk about it, having it as a constant dialogue for several years now, it's making law enforcement officers give extra thought as to when to use them," Grieco says.
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Commissioner Jonah Wolfson, though, says his biggest concern with Tasers remains how police are trained to use them.
"Whatever the written policy is, I think the biggest issue with the Taser is when you use it, not how it's used. It can clearly be a deadly option," Wolfson says, adding that he hopes police training encourages common sense about when to avoid Taser use.
Indeed, a New Times investigation last December found officers at departments around Miami routinely using Tasers outside of recommended policy — with regularly deadly results.