Hawthorne police have launched a misconduct investigation of an officer who used a 50,000-volt stun gun on a violent autistic 12-year-old boy at one of the city’s middle schools, authorities said.
Such use of electroshock weapons by police on young students is rare, but high-profile incidents have sparked fierce debate around the country over when, if ever, Tasers should be used on children. At the same time, an increasing number of police departments are equipping school-based officers with them, according to the leading maker of the weapons.
Taser proponents say the weapons allow officers to safely detain unruly students without resorting to batons or other physical force. But critics argue that little research has been done on the medical effects of shocking children and that using Tasers on minors is inappropriate.
“This is a question of common sense. . . . You don’t discharge a Taser at a child, absent the most extreme circumstances,” said Michael Gennaco, a former federal prosecutor who now monitors internal discipline of deputies for the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department.
A Hawthorne police spokesman said the department launched its investigation in response to a complaint by the boy’s parents days after the Sept. 23 incident. He said department officials are reviewing the incident to determine whether the officer followed the agency’s rules on using Tasers.
The U.S. Department of Justice’s research arm found that studies on the effects of stun guns might not be applicable to small children. The Police Executive Research Forum has discouraged officers from using Tasers on young children and other vulnerable people, such as pregnant women.
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Some law enforcement agencies, including those in New York City and Las Vegas, have restricted the use of the weapons on minors. Los Angeles Unified School District police officers do not carry Tasers, a district spokeswoman said.