Houston police officers have used Tasers more on black suspects than any other group of individuals, according to a city study released Monday.
Of 1,417 Taser deployments by officers between December 2004 and June 2007, nearly 67 percent were used on black suspects, according to an audit conducted for the city by a team of criminology, statistics and mathematics experts. About 25 percent of Houston’s population is black.
The audit was requested by Houston Mayor Bill White in 2006, after several high-profile incidents. That year, Houston Texans offensive lineman Fred Weary was shocked during a traffic stop, and an officer called to quiet a noisy music club shocked musicians and concertgoers. The latter incident was videotaped and widely viewed on YouTube.
Minister Robert Muhammad, with the southwest regional headquarters for The Nation of Islam, said the study shows that police are more apt to use the weapons on black suspects than suspects of other races.
“Can we say it’s racism? Yes, and some people would argue no,” said Muhammad. “The greater argument is abuse of authority. We give them authority to protect us. But instead of using that authority to protect us, they abuse us with it.”
Houston police said their use of Tasers was not tied to race, but to a person’s behavior.
“It’s not a racial issue. A Taser device is no different from a radar gun. It’s race neutral,” Executive Assistant Police Chief Charles McClelland said after the Houston City Council meeting during which the report was released.
The study found that black officers were less likely than white or Hispanic officers to use Tasers on a black suspect.
“We have to spend more time in determining why these racial and ethnic differences exist,” said City Controller Annise Parker, whose office oversaw the audit. “Simply ignoring them or saying they are not significant is not going to make them go away.”
McClelland said Houston police arrest more than 100,000 people each year, and less than one-half of 1 percent of those individuals are ever involved in a Taser event.
“It is so rare,” he said.
The report did not give a breakdown of arrests by minorities.
The city spent .7 million on Tasers in 2004. The Tasers were introduced a year after the shootings of two unarmed teens. But the audit found that Tasers, which were touted as an alternative to the use of deadly force, did not reduce the number of officer-involved shootings.
The audit also found that no policy exists as to how many times a Taser may be used on an individual.
About 11,500 law enforcement agencies across the country use Tasers, according to the National Institute of Justice.
Tasers, which deliver a 50,000-volt jolt through two barbed darts that can penetrate clothing, are manufactured by Scottsdale, Ariz.-based Taser International.