Tuesday, August 11, 2009

Taser Overuse

Digby subbing for Greenwald writes about the abuse of Tasers by law enforcement officers.

But that isn't the real problem, although it may eventually be the path by which tasers are banned for use in civilized countries. As awful as the possibility of death is, tasers would be a blight on any free people even if they weren't so often deadly. Tasers were sold to the public as a tool for law enforcement to be used in lieu of deadly force. Presumably, this means situations in which officers would have previously had to use their firearms. It's hard to argue with that, and I can't think of a single civil libertarian who would say that this would be a truly civilized advance in policing. Nobody wants to see more death and if police have a weapon they can employ instead of a gun, in self defense or to stop someone from hurting others, I think we all can agree that's a good thing.

But that's not what's happening. Tasers are routinely used by police to torture innocent people who have not broken any law and whose only crime is being disrespectful toward their authority or failing to understand their "orders." There is ample evidence that police often take no more than 30 seconds to talk to citizens before employing the taser, they use them while people are already handcuffed and thus present no danger, and are used often against the mentally ill and handicapped. It is becoming a barbaric tool of authoritarian, social control.

The issue of Tasers is one that I think about a lot since I am certified to carry one at work. Part of this involved taking a hit from the Taser, a full five-second ride. As I wrote then:
Yes it is the most painful thing I have ever done. I will certainly be very cognizant of what will happen if I make the decision to draw and employ it.

It was stressed to us in our training and frequently since that the Taser is not to be used as a behavior modification tool. It is used to prevent serious injury to the officer or anyone else on the scene. And for this, it is a fantastic tool. The electricity locks up the muscle's in a person's body. The cycle (with the darts) lasts five seconds which in a heated situation is an eternity and gives the officer time to get control of the subject whether that is pinning them to the ground, handcuffing them, or whatever is needed to deescalate the situation. I have yet to even draw it, but I like knowing that it's there if the situation calls for it.

Unfortunately, there are a number of officers out there who use them when a person gets a little mouthy or doesn't comply right away or just simply makes the officer mad. This is, of course, completely unacceptable; but the fact is that our society has really failed to crack down on this and put a stop to it. We tut-tut when we see videos of abuses, but no one does anything. I think that many of us deep down feel the person deserved it, that they should have just shut up and done what the officer told them. Sometimes this is the case, however it also a fact that many people are Tased who should not be. It's easy for an officer who deals with a lot of scumbags to let their temper get the best of them, to give someone a 50,000 volt shot, because they want a release and since the Taser is billed as less-than-lethal, why not? I'm not saying it's right, far from it. However law enforcement officials and security officers who carry Tasers are human beings with all of the foibles that comes with.

Anyone with the authority carried by a law enforcement official should be held to a higher standard, though, and Taser abuse should be dealt with swiftly and harshly. We as a society do need to come together and ask ourselves, "What should cops be allowed to do?" It's easy to see something happen to someone else and not worry about it, but if we become complacent it could be us or a loved one riding the lightning for no good reason.

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