NEW YORK -- The NYPD is expanding its use of the Taser stun gun, a common tool in the law enforcement arsenal that's seen limited use in the nation's largest police force.
Newer model Tasers are smaller, lighter and easier to carry in a holster, the main reason for the change, department spokesman Paul Browne said Saturday.
Starting Wednesday, thousands of police sergeants will begin carrying electronic stun guns on their belts. The NYPD has used Tasers since 1984, but policy called for sergeants to store the stun guns in their trunks while patrolling, rather than strapping the weapons to their hips.
"They were a little too cumbersome," Browne explained. He said older Tasers were about the size and weight of a large flashlight and were less essential than other items police carry.
About 3,500 uniformed sergeants and other supervisors on patrol duty will be issued Tasers, costing about $500 each. The NYPD has 36,000 officers.
Browne said stun guns can be valuable when dealing with psychologically distressed people who might mean no harm but who are acting violently and have lost their ability to comply with an officer's orders.
Police forces nationwide use stun guns as alternatives to guns.
Some critics have questioned whether the devices are used too hastily and on vulnerable people. Amnesty International has counted more than 300 deaths since June 2001 in which a Taser was used against someone, though the tally does not show what caused those deaths.
The manufacturer, Taser International Inc., says the devices have been listed as a contributing factor in about 12 deaths.