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Problems with Tasers and Arming Police with Them

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Last week, Taser International spokesman Steve Tuttle revealed that the use of Tasers, which are now standard issue weapons for police officers everywhere the United States, has serious risks.

Unfortunately, Steve Tuttle wasn’t talking about the risks for those who are tasered.

Instead, he was referring to the growing concern among the makers of Tasers that the use of their products are turning their best customers into targets of controversy and public outrage.

And Taser manufactures now have an answer for the police, and the answer is: don’t aim for the chest.

You see, in an effort “to minimize controversy, increase effectiveness and provide enhanced risk management” (i.e. in order to avoid increasing public outrage over the abuse of this dangerous weapon), Taser manufacturers are now suggesting to police officers that they instead try to taser people in the back, pelvic muscles, or thigh.

Should the Taser manufacturers, who not only make the Tasers, but also provide police with the training to use them, be commended for their recent efforts at controversy-management? No.

The way I see it, controversy over arming police officers with Tasers isn’t the problem.

There are at least two problems with arming police officers with Tasers, and more public outrage – more controversy – is very much needed if these problems are to be resolved successfully.

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The first and most obvious problem with arming police with Tasers is that these weapons have a history of seriously hurting people and even killing people.

Earlier this month, a seventeen-year-old boy in Florida was riding a bicycle when a police officer tried to taser him from a moving police vehicle. The boy was then run over by the police and died under the car.

The Southern Christian Leadership Conference issued the following statement:

Yet again we are seeing the use of Tasers as a compliance device, rather than protection. One cannot believe that officers are being trained to fire tasers from moving police vehicles and placing the officer and the suspect in uncontrollable situations. A young man is dead and for no apparent reason.

This problem of police misusing and/or abusively using Tasers has been evident for several years.

Amnesty International USA has recommended that police departments “either suspend the use of Tasers and stun guns pending further safety research or limit their use to situations where officers would otherwise be justified in resorting to firearms.”

Numerous examples of the misuse of Tasers are documented at Amnesty International USA’s “Taser Abuse in the United States.”

According to Amnesty International USA,

Since June 2001, more than 351 individuals in the United States have died after being shocked by police Tasers. Most of those individuals were not carrying a weapon.

But the fact that Tasers can cause and have caused injury and death is only one big problem with arming police officers with these weapons.

The second problem is that arming police with Tasers has contributed to a major change in the relationship between police officers and the citizens whom they are supposed to be serving and protecting.

As the Southern Christian Leadership Conference put it in the quote above, we see again and again and again “the use of Tasers as a compliance device, rather than protection.”

Indeed, Amnesty International is also concerned

that Tasers are being used as tools of routine force – rather than as an alternative to firearms.

This second problem is as big as the first. There was a time when police were supposed to arrive at the scenes and calm situations in which citizens were often anything but calm.

Now, a student obnoxiously questions a politician during a Q&A, is held down by several police officers, and is tasered.

A great-grandmother gets emotional about getting a traffic ticket and is tasered.

A professor, standing in his own house, is confronted by a police officer, gets upset, and – no, he wasn’t tasered – was arrested because the police officer – Cambridge, Mass. police Sergeant James Crowley – is too much of a dick to understand that, as a police officer, the responsibility to calm tense situations is his and not the responsibility of a Harvard University professor or of any other citizen.

Sgt. Crowley may not have used a Taser to subdue a highly respected scholar, whose crime appears to have been getting overly emotional when police officers confronted him in his own home.

But Sgt. Crowley’s actions that day are indicative of a new law enforcement paradigm that requires citizens to fear the police, a new law enforcement paradigm that dictates that citizens must be able to calm themselves instantly in order to perfectly obey, comply with, and conform to the orders of police officers, regardless of whether or not they are posing a threat to themselves, others, or the police officers and regardless of whether or not what the police officers are telling them to do makes any sense.

Sgt. Crowley was never told by his superiors that what he did was stupid, inappropriate, and excessive.

Far from it.

In other words, even citizens who are not posing a threat to anyone must be in total control of themselves at all times and obey police officers, while the police officers in turn do not hesitate to lose control of their own emotions and even arrive at scenes only to create the very tension that leads to the use of excessive force.

Until that paradigm changes, it’s obviously a terrible idea to arm police officers with Tasers.

But even if that paradigm were to change, Tasers should be used as an alternative to firearms – i.e. thought of and used as a deadly weapon – or they should not be used at all.

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