New Jersey law enforcement officers will have far more latitude to use stun guns after a policy change announced Thursday that brings the state closer to guidelines followed by police departments nationally.

The policy continues to restrict the use of the guns to situations in which officers try to prevent suspects from causing death or serious injury to themselves or others, state officials said.

But the new policy eliminates rules – approved last year by then-Attorney General Anne Milgram – that discouraged stun-gun use as an alternative to deadly force in rapidly unfolding crises.

“Law-enforcement officers have a very tough job, and we want to give them every tool that can assist them in their work of protecting lives,” Attorney General Paula T. Dow said Thursday.

“In consultation with the law-enforcement community, we have developed a fair and balanced policy on stun guns that will provide officers with a practical alternative to using deadly force in appropriate situations,” she said.

The restrictions were so stringent that New Jersey police departments did not purchase stun guns. New Jersey was the last state to allow stun-gun use under any circumstances.

The new guidelines are still more restrictive than elsewhere, but allow enough leeway to make the “less-lethal” option more practical, officials said.

No longer must officers be faced with an armed suspect before employing the stun gun’s electronically charged darts.

No longer will they have to make the quick clinical judgment required by the old policy: Is the armed person “mentally ill” or “temporarily deranged”?

Nor will officers have to receive the permission of an on-scene supervisor to use the gun.

They’ll be allowed to fire, despite the risks, to protect others nearby, the policy says. Earlier guidelines obligated them to use the stun gun only when a suspect was “isolated and contained.”

Officers also can stun a dangerous suspect who is handcuffed, or fleeing from police custody, or injuring someone by, for instance, choking or kicking.

“There was a consensus among law-enforcement professionals that the stun-gun policy adopted by the prior administration was too restrictive, both in terms of the number of officers who could carry the devices and the limits imposed on their use in a rapidly developing use-of-force situation,” state Criminal Justice Director Stephen J. Taylor said Thursday.

Source: Edward Colimore for

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