Turn around and put your hands behind your back…zzZZap!

I generally have a lot of respect for police officers. Lately, there have been a lot of questions raised regarding the use of tasers by police. To me, a taser is an alternative to deadly force: if the cop feels they have to use a gun, or if they feel that the next step will be hand to hand combat, then the taser gives them an alternative.

Tasers are about as likely to cause lasting harm as a night stick or a punch, and are far more effective with much less risk to both the police officer and bystanders. However, I am beginning to think that some police officers are using them under rather questionable circumstances. If there are four or five cops and one guy with no history of violence and without a weapon, why is a taser considered “appropriate”? Or how about the circumstance in this video…

Here we have a police officer pulling over a guy for speeding in a construction zone. The driver has no priors, his wife and baby are in the vehicle with him, he is not drunk or stoned, and he is carrying no weapons. He is being belligerent and uncooperative: specifically, he is asking where the 40 MPH sign is (the video clearly shows him driving past it). And his big crime: he refuses to sign the speeding ticket.

Now…I personally don’t think I would do what this guy is doing- you don’t get out of your car and ask a cop to show you the speed limit sign. You might ask him (politely) where the speed zone is, but you leave the maneuvering for the court room. But it is a small step from asking a reasonably polite question to the level this guy was at- he wasn’t swearing, he wasn’t spitting, swinging, or throwing things, he didn’t even noticeably raise his voice. But he was tasered, thrown to the ground, handcuffed, and arrested. And the second officer on the scene (supervisor?) said “Good job!” to the arresting officer.

This doesn’t look like the right way to use a taser to me…

3 thoughts on “Turn around and put your hands behind your back…zzZZap!”

  1. I think the taser is a great tool for the police officers. If innocent bystanders are at risk, whip that zapper out. That’s why I’m not jumping up and down over the fellow at the airport here in Vancouver who was zapped: airports are full of innocent bystanders, and are a secure area besides. Taking tasers away from officers, or putting unreasonable limits on their use, would be a mistake.

    But there are some fine lines here. In this video, no one is at risk other than the police officer, and I’d have to say that the indicators of potential violence/risk (to me, as an untrained observer) aren’t there. A hand on the shoulder and a stern talking to probably would have done the trick.

    Using the taser is basically about the same (in terms of level of force, not effectiveness) as getting out the billy club and smacking the guy repeatedly on the torso. Sometimes you have to do that even when the suspect is not doing obviously dangerous things, but is putting others at risk. In those instances, the taser is an incredibly valuable tool: the cops need that tool, and should use it when appropriate.

    But in the incident in this video…I just don’t see it. Once the officer drew the taser, he had no choice but to use it when the suspect refused to comply. He had no other escalation, other than drawing his gun and shooting the driver. But I think the officer’s mistake was drawing the taser to begin with.

    It is easy to second-guess the police, and I usually try to avoid it: faced with a split second choice that can easily be life or death, I don’t feel competent to judge. But this video makes me wonder if the training the officers are getting on taser use, at least on this particular force, is really “correct”.

  2. I think that somewhere along the line the training syllabus for Taser use got warped.

    Originally, Tasers were intended to be used as a substitute for deadly force. Later that became a substitute for physically damaging force: ie whacking someone over the head with a club.

    But over the years, people have stopped referring to Tasers as weapons, and started calling them “stun guns” They *are* a weapon, which is why you and I can’t own them legally.

    Even more alarming ( and here in Edmonton we have had a large number of fairly clear cases of Taser abuse, so much so that the EPS is planning to put “gun cameras” on every single Taser, ) is that I hear police officers of many police departments refer to Tasers as “tools of compliance.” What this means is that the police are being trained to think of Tasers not as weapons, but as tools to be used to make suspects do what you want.

    This, coupled with the belief that Tasers are “harmless” ( and even in the best cases they inflict a great deal of pain, ) has led many police to no longer develop and rely on their judgment and communication skills, but instead to, as it were, stun em all and ask questions later.

    Even if a taser were 100% safe and effective, and without discomfort of anykind, I would not want police to use them as a shoot first ask questions later device, because I think it would lead to lazy, sloppy police work, and poorer quality officers over all.

    I can’t really imagine Sam Steele tasering people on a regular basis.

    Another factor that I find somewhat disturbing is that the initial Taser units to hit the target were fire once devices. They would zap a person and bring him down, but the police then had to jump in. The new models have a fast recharge time, and allow an officer to repeatedly shock a suspect as long as the probes remain attached. While this is a boon for the one or two officer unit that has to deal with a large, drug fueled maniac that is as hard to bring down as a bull elephant, it lends itself to abuse with distressing ease.

    Even without it being used as a “punishment device”, we now have cases of suspects being hit with 3 or 4 tasers, and each officer jolting the suspect 3 or 4 times. One Taser hit may be fairly safe, but 12 – 16?

    No, we need the police to get back to looking at Tasers as something you only use if the alternative is to shoot someone with a gun instead.

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