Even for the most crime-weary New Yorkers, the city’s latest police scandal is an outrage. Last month the New York Daily News disclosed that police had used an electronic “stun gun” on an 18-year-old drug suspect in the 106th precinct house in Queens—a location quickly nicknamed the “torture precinct” by local tabloids. The stun gun—a prohibited weapon in Canada but easily available in New York —is a small, two-pronged device that inflicts brief but excruciating pain by jolting victims with up to 50,000 volts of electricity. Describing the effect, Queens district attorney John Santucci declared, “It is like fried flesh.” Since the Daily News revelations, four more suspects have alleged that police used stun guns on them to extract confessions. Said Mayor Edward Koch, who has called for a ban on the weapons: “This case shocks the conscience.”
The stun gun affair has led to the biggest police shake-up since the early 1970s, when former officer Frank Serpico uncovered widespread bribery on the force. As a result, five officers assigned to the 106th precinct have been indicted on charges of felonious assault. The force has also demoted the precinct’s commander and transferred or suspended all 18 sergeants and lieutenants. And four other top-ranking police officers have been forced into early retirement.
Those disciplinary measures took place amid growing public concern over police brutality. Since last December police officers have killed two apparently unarmed suspects and shot and killed a woman involved in a minor traffic accident, and a police cruiser killed one pedestrian and injured another in a hit-and-run accident. Afterward, Police Commissioner Benjamin Ward last month warned his 325 top-ranking officers that their own jobs are on the line. Said Ward: “Real men, brave men, do not engage in brutality. They do not have to prove their masculinity.”
Koch and Santucci have also vowed to root out police brutality in New York. But polls taken shortly after the stun gun allegations indicated that public confidence in the police has plunged dramatically. Indeed, after the revelations of misconduct many New Yorkers are now asking the classic question about their police: “Who will guard the
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