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Advocates Urge Perry to Ban Tasers in Schools

After a Round Rock school police officer used a Taser to stop a fight Monday, some Texas youth advocates are urging Gov. Rick Perry to ban Tasers and pepper spray in public schools.

After a Round Rock high school resource officer used a Taser on a 16-year-old student to stop a fight Monday, some youth advocates on Tuesday sent a letter to Gov. Rick Perry, urging him to ban the use of Tasers and pepper spray in public schools. 

“Use of Tasers and pepper spray has become far too routine in public schools, despite rigorous restrictions in other child-serving settings, including juvenile lockups," Texas Appleseed, a nonprofit that advocates for social justice, wrote in the letter.

Appleseed, along with seven other groups, has sent Perry two letters in recent months — the first one on Feb. 26 — regarding what they called “abusive uses of force” in schools. The letters came after a November incident in which then 17-year-old Noe Niño de Rivera suffered traumatic brain injury after collapsing when a Bastrop County sheriff's office deputy tased him at Cedar Creek High School. Rivera was in a coma for 52 days and is currently in rehabilitation, Appleseed deputy director Deborah Fowler said. 

Some law enforcement officers, however, are skeptical of the requests for a ban, arguing that they need more options to handle violence in schools. 

Lucy Nashed, a Perry spokeswoman, said "the governor believes this is a local decision."

The use of Tasers could result in heart attack, and pepper spray can cause respiratory and cardiovascular problems, blistering of the skin and permanent damage to the sensory nervous system, according to a 2010 report from Texas Appleseed. 

But officers consider Tasers and pepper spray “intermediate force options,” a step down from more lethal weapons such as guns, said Kevin Lawrence, the executive director of the Texas Municipal Police Association.

“The fact of the matter is that our schools are not exempt from criminal activity,” Lawrence said. “It’s a much more complex issue than just Appleseed asking to ban the weapons.” 

Lawrence said officers need options if a situation cannot be contained with milder weapons before drawing guns. 

But Appleseed and its allies argue that any use of force is usually unwarranted in school.

Most situations don’t pose the sort of risk that would require force, Fowler said. “Public schools happen to be safe places,” she said.

The state education code does not require school officers to report incidents in which force is used against students, so there is no data on the frequency of such incidents on school grounds. Additionally, police officers may be commissioned several ways by school districts. Some districts have officers who are trained to be on school grounds, while others may contract with local police agencies.

Instead of issuing a ban on particular items, Lawrence said, the focus should be on training for school officers. 

“There’s a training issue to be discussed,” Lawrence said. "Let’s get everyone together to work out some of these issues and come up with a plan of action.”

This article originally appeared in The Texas Tribune at http://www.texastribune.org/2014/04/15/safety-advocates-urge-governor-ban-tasers-schools/.

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