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Baltimore Police Department to receive $5 million for Tasers; funding for upgraded ‘panic button’ system in courtroom approved

Patrick Semansky
A Baltimore Police car.

The Board of Estimates unanimously approved a $5 million contract on Wednesday morning with the company that makes Tasers. The five-year contract will make sure the Baltimore Police Department has an upgraded set of less-lethal weapons.

The deal is with Axon Enterprise Inc., an Arizona-based company that makes weapons, including Tasers, for police departments all over the country. The $5 million will cover 1,200 new and upgraded units for the force.

The department must have less-lethal weapons “on their belt” as required by the federal consent decree between the U.S. Department of Justice and the Baltimore City Police Department, explained police Deputy Commissioner of Compliance Eric Melancon. “The Taser program has been an instrument for us in making sure we have more effective means by which to handle an escalatory incident… without the use of deadly force,” said Melancon. “And so for us, we've seen the number of police-officer involved shootings go down significantly."

Taser is specifically an Axon product – the actual weapon is known formally as a Conducted Electrical Weapon.

A December 2022 report from the consent decree monitoring team found that from 2018, when the decree began, through 2021, the number of force incidents involving BPD officers declined by nearly 54.7%. The use of Tasers has declined too.

Taser use in Baltimore City is far from without controversy. In 2014, 19 year-old George V. King went into a coma and eventually died after Baltimore police tasered him six times. The death was ruled as due to “natural causes” and the officers were not charged. The weapons garnered scrutiny on a national level after a 2021 incident in Minnesota where Officer Kim Potter shot Daunte Wright, claiming she thought she was reaching for her Taser and instead grabbed her gun.

“We have a bad history when it comes to use of force,” Melancon reminded the Board. ”The consent decree envisions us having a less lethal form of force beyond a firearm on the gun belt of our officers on the street. It was important for us to maintain that compliance.”

BPD policy does not allow the use of the weapon on the elderly, pregnant people, pre-teens or anyone fleeing from an officer. They may also not be deployed on someone who is in danger of falling, operating a vehicle or who has been exposed to pepper spray.

The contract was not put out for a competitive bid although Melancon says that future contracts could be put out for bid in the future. In this case, he explained that he believed staying with the same company and device would be more efficient in maintaining compliance with the consent decree. After that, the department could even explore options that are not CEWs, he said.

Also on Wednesday, the board approved nearly $45,000 with the Maryland Administrative Office of the Courts for an upgrade to the “panic alert” system between the Baltimore City Circuit Courts and the Baltimore City Sheriff’s office. According to the agenda, judges have reported delays or no transmission at all when they press the button.

Bradley Tanner, the public information officer for the Maryland Administrative Office of the Courts, told WYPR that the system is seven-years-old and has no issues. It is also tested every 30 days. Tanner called the upgrade “preemptive” to prevent any future emergencies.

Emily is a general assignment news reporter for WYPR.
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