by EDGAR WALTERS
Citing new federal guidelines and recent violent incidents between school police officers and students, a coalition of interest groups has asked the Texas Education Agency to ban the use of “less lethal” weapons, including Tasers and pepper spray, on students.
In a letter sent to the TEA on Wednesday, the seven-member coalition, which includes the American Civil Liberties Union of Texas and Texas Appleseed, a public-interest law center, called the use of Tasers and pepper spray on children dangerous and “unconscionable.” In the letter, the groups noted a recent incident involving Noe Niño de Rivera, a Bastrop student who was comatose for more than 50 days after a school resource officer used a Taser on him.
Opponents of the ban say less-lethal weapons are the best alternative available to peace officers.
“That ban is out of touch with modern law enforcement,” said Steve Tuttle, a spokesman for TASER International.
The coalition sent a similar letter to the Texas Commission on Law Enforcement in December, but the commission said it did not have the authority to ban the weapons in schools.
The interest groups hope that new federal guidelines from the U.S. Departments of Justice and Education will spur the TEA to act this time. The guidelines recommend that “schools choosing to use school-based law enforcement officers should carefully ensure that these officers’ roles are focused on protecting the physical safety of the school or preventing the criminal conduct of persons other than students.”
“We think the federal guidelines give some clear directions about what school districts’ obligations are with respect to school-based law enforcement officers,” said Deborah Fowler, deputy director of Texas Appleseed.
Law enforcement groups have opposed similar bans in the past. In the 2013 legislative session, the Combined Law Enforcement Associations of Texas opposed Senate Bill 1122, which would have prohibited security personnel in public schools from using pepper spray, Tasers and stun guns against students. The bill, authored by state Sen. Royce West, D-Dallas, did not pass.
Representatives from CLEAT declined to comment on the letter to the TEA, but the group officially opposed SB 1122 because it “prohibits school district peace officers from using non-lethal or compliance weapons.”
The letter to the TEA notes that Tasers are banned in juvenile detention facilities in Texas.
Tuttle said Tasers have been cleared for use on children and that law enforcement officials are “urged caution in deployment.”
“You don’t ban a product outright because of one mishap,” he said.
EDGAR WALTERS reports for The Texas Tribune where this story was originally published. It is made available here through a news partnership between the Texas Tribune and the San Marcos Mercury.
COVER: FILE PHOTO by SARAH CAUFIELD