Thursday, November 11, 2010

Taser Madness


The first time I heard about stun guns it was from a student of mine, a long time ago. In fact, the student is now a retired Lieutenant General of the US Army. He enthusiastically described how they could be used in hostage situations, where you wouldn't want to use a gun -- that is, the kind that fires slugs -- for fear of hitting the hostage.

I just noticed on the Wikipedia page for tasers that the original inventor was motivated by the shooting deaths of two friends. He wanted to help prevent such things in the future.

On the continuum of violence -- from least to most violent means of physical force -- tasers were originally meant to substitute for more violent methods. That is not the way they are being used by police today. Police are applying these weapons as if they were at the low end of the continuum of violence, similar to pepper spray, baton use, or striking nerve centers. Because they are in fact more violent than that, this means the introduction of these weapons has resulted in a dramatic, massive increase of police violence against the citizenry in recent years.

Among the justifications for taser use I have heard in particular cases are the following:

He was being snotty.

He was giving us trouble.

He was disrespecting the officer.

He wouldn't calm down.

He was being belligerent (ie., loud).

We warned him we would taser him.

Indeed, in the famous "don't tase me Bro" incident, the victim's apparent offense was to say "I'm not resisting" in a tone of voice too loud to suit the university police who were removing him from a lecture hall.

Isn't it obvious that none of these justify administering a devastating electric shock? Indeed, in many cases the cops seem to be using tasers as a form of summary punishment -- something that is not only illegal but unconsititutional.

We need clear rules specifying justified taser use and reining this craziness in.

There are so many videos on Youtube documenting excessive taser use that it is difficult to select one or two. The following are taken almost at random.

Here is one in which the police apparently are using a stun gun as a form of summary punishment (I like the narrator's comment on America's foreign policy at the end!):

This one is for those who doubt that tasers are a particularly violent form of physical force (warning -- graphic image):

Oh, and here's one I just found. It is so egregious that, unlike the overwhelming majority of cases, it did result in some (apparently very mild) disciplinary action against the cops involved.


Steve said...

Yep... The tasers are being dramatically overused. It's almost as if departments and officers have been intoxicated by the promise of this wonder-tool that will incapacitate almost anyone, instantly, and usually without serious injury. The problem may be that it has been so effective that they are now using it as a replacement for all other methods of taking someone into custody. It's become a crutch.... when the officer feels that twinge of fear course through his nervous system because he's receiving some hostility from a person, easy way to make the fear go away is to tase him!

I would think that at some point there will be enough lawsuits, public outcry, DOJ investigations, that departments would catch a clue and curtail its use and limit it to very specific scenarios. Honestly I'm a bit surprised it hasn't already happened given the media attention surrounding some of these cases.

Lester Hunt said...

I think the problem may stem from the fact that, though there are rules and standards of some sort, they all seem to be written entirely by the police. I see an obvious flaw in that arrangement...

enrico said...

What comes across most clearly to me is the simple lack of professionalism and training in the actions of these policemen. Much more ambiguous actions by the police in the UK have been investigated pretty exhaustively (even if not always severely, if judging by the outcomes). Combine this with the seeming disregard for the lethal nature of the weapon (I’m glad to read that the taser is both considered a “less lethal” weapon and is subject to huge range of firearms restrictions in the UK) and it is not hard to see how you get to some of the situations above.