Bad boys beware: Tasers are a go in Salt Lake City.

Mayor Rocky Anderson approved a policy Tuesday that allows all certified patrol officers in Utah's capital to carry the electronic stun guns known as Conducted Energy Devices or CEDs.

The guns, which deliver an immobilizing electric shock, have become controversial since — in very rare cases — people who have been hit with the electrodes have died or have suffered long-term health effects. Concerns aside, CED guns have become wildly popular among law agencies across the nation. Police brass argue the guns are an alternative to deadly force to subdue aggressive subjects before a situation gets out of hand.

"Proper Taser use," the mayor said in a statement, "with clear written policies governing such use, will significantly increase both the safety of the public and Salt Lake City police officers."

The new policy states CEDs can be used in "intermediate force situations when a dangerous or violent subject aggressively resists or attempts to flee." Tasers can also be used on violent or aggressive animals.

Any patrol officer who completes certified training can carry a Taser. Historically, only SWAT team or gang unit members could carry Tasers.

While the ACLU had argued that CEDs should only be used in the same situations as those when deadly force is authorized, civil liberties union leaders were mildly pleased with the city's policy.

"Salt Lake's Taser policy, we think, is a more thoughtful and comprehensive policy than most departments in the country," ACLU of Utah executive director Dani Eyer said. "Having said that we still do not fully endorse the policy because we still think they should only be used in life-threatening situations."

Police have argued that using Taser only in such "deadly force" situations would render the electronic guns useless and potentially put officers in danger.

CEDs are "a safer alternative to deadly force in certain circumstances," assistant police chief Chris Burbank said. "It will hopefully reduce deadly force situations that officer may encounter. For us to say that an officer can only use it in lieu of deadly force places the officers in a very precarious situation."

Every time a Taser is used in the line of duty, police brass will review the case to make sure the new policy was followed. Citizens can also bring Taser cases to the Police Civilian Review Board — an independent citizen panel Anderson created to review all matters relating to the police department.

State Sen. Scott McCoy, D-Salt Lake City, who is a member of the review board, said board members welcome the new policy, which gives them some specific rules to examine when reviewing cases in which Tasers are involved. "Having a clear policy makes our job easier," he said.

Previously, Tasers could be used under the same circumstances as pepper spray. As an "intermediate force" tool, Taser use is now more strictly controlled than pepper spray.

"My sense is that the board will be pleased that the Taser will be moved up on the use of force continuum," McCoy said.

Anderson has been examining Taser use since the police department began considering whether all patrol officers should be armed with them. The mayor convened a panel that included Amnesty International and the ACLU to provide input.


E-mail: bsnyder@desnews.com