Commentary: Local law enforcement should ban use of TaserIn the past five years the Taser has become a part of the “tool kit” of many law enforcement agencies. It has become commonplace on the news due to the excesses, giving dramatic testimony of its potential abuse.
By: Richard W. Johnson, Wacouta, The Republican Eagle
In the past five years the Taser has become a part of the “tool kit” of many law enforcement agencies. It has become commonplace on the news due to the excesses, giving dramatic testimony of its potential abuse.
The Taser is a “gun-like” device with tiny wires connecting the “gun” to barbs shot at a subject, through which 50,000 volts travel up to 25 feet away. As seen on TV, it brings substantial pain, causing the victim to scream, suffer muscular failure, collapse and sometimes die.
Amnesty International has recorded 290 deaths in the U.S. and 17 in Canada (Newsweek, Dec. 24, 2007). The Chicago Police Department has removed the Taser from use.
Recently, a 40-year-old in Vancouver and a 40 -year-old in Taos, N.M., died after being Tased. On the Dec. 22 news, they showed an unarmed man being Tased, falling off a roof, being injured and hospitalized.
The R-E’s editorial page Jan. 25 identified a 29-year-old from Crookston, Minn., being Tased after he crashed his car and dying shortly thereafter at the hospital. He was Tased for being “uncooperative.” It is likely that both the crash and the uncooperative attitude were at most misdemeanors, punishable by a maximum of 90 days in jail and a $300 fine, not death.
The Taser affects metabolic conditions as well as adversely affecting other health problems. Its use is declining rapidly, with the sales down over 50 percent and its stock has plummeted. These last two factors reflect that there are serious questions about its value.
It is not only reasonable but compelling to conclude that the use of the Taser is torture. Torture is defined as “causing agony or pain.” The Dec. 24 Newsweek reported that “last month a United Nations committee raised concerns that Taser constituted a form of torture.” The use of electrical shock is precluded in the U.S. Army manual, as well as Geneva Convention rules.
Yet many law enforcement agencies insist on its continued use. Their argument is that it gives the officer an option other than deadly force. That position is flawed in that if an officer is confronted with a deadly force weapon, a gun, he will not reach for his Taser, but his gun, as the Taser has different effects on different people, with sometimes unpredictable results.
Although a case can be made for confronting a knife, sword, or baseball bat, most of its use is against verbally aggressive, confrontational and noncompliant subjects, sometimes, as seen on television, with little of no provocation by the subject. There always has been these types of confrontation and in the past they have been handled with bean bags, mace, pepper spray and night sticks.
I suspect that law enforcement has curtailed its use in recent years due to the substantial exposure to liability law suits experienced by municipalities. If one is insensitive to constitutional arguments against its use, it is compelling, if for no other reason, to suspend its use based on economic self-interest.
One of the inherent problems with the Taser is that the officer is without relevant and essential information as to the health or medical condition of the subject. Any person can be deemed noncompliant if they are deaf, hard of hearing, blind, elderly, disabled, under the influence of drugs or alcohol, or have not taken medication needed to communicate effectively. In addition, those not speaking English will appear to be noncompliant. Tasers have been used on subjects from 9 to 90 with the threshold for injury being lower in both age categories.
An examination of Taser records reflects that the underlying crime is a subject is suspected of is minor and the weapons use is generally for noncompliance. This scenario does not justify the use of a deadly weapon.
Red Wing Police Department policy provides for use against “non-compliant,” a very broad term, especially when considering the constitutional protections against self-incrimination. The term opens the door far too wide for abusive interpretation.
Is a person who wishes not to incriminate himself, non-compliant? The local policy has no prohibitions against either old or young subjects, not does it warn that deaf-mutes, medicated, disabled, those under the influence of drugs or alcohol, to those non English speaking subjects, may give a confusing impression to an officer.
The policy has no prohibition for pregnant women other than to “watch where they will fall,” but no concern for the fetus.
Water boarding appears to be illegal in this country, but apparently accounts for many fewer deaths than Tasers, if any. Water boarding is defined as torture — giving the victim the “impression of drowning,” whereas Tasering exposes the victim to the real prospect that he could, in fact, die.
Taser is torture
Using the Taser in the apprehension of a suspect is a prejudicial punishment of an accused, without benefit of constitutional protections afforded to all. If it is prejudicial use, would the next step be to use it as an investigative tool in the interrogation process?
A judge would not consider using it in the punishment phase on sentencing, so why is it permissible in the apprehension phase? A person Tased in apprehension is going to doubt he has any rights under the system and will be particularly vulnerable in defending himself. If he can be tortured out on the street for being “non-compliant,” what could happen, in his mind, when he gets to the jail?
The answer to these questions is simple. If, in fact, use of the Taser constitutes torture, then there is no permissible use. None. We don’t torture people, even if they have been convicted of a crime. We don’t torture people who have not been charged with a crime. We don’t torture people period.
Those who are invariably Tased, are poor, uneducated, alien, minorities, illiterate and mentally troubled. That is the reason that we have done nothing about cleaning up the Taser problem. They have no vote, no influence, no power and no voice. They are outside the system.
The Dec. 24 Newsweek carried an article featuring a Taser designed for the female, private citizen market. It still carries 50,000 volts at 15 feet. These will become available through mail order or home parties. These likely will become popular, as was mace and pepper spray, except the use will be by the untrained and the chance that a “barb” will be launched toward the head, eyes or throat will greatly increase the risk of injury.
Making these available to the private citizenry is a mistake. At least, with a concealed handgun people know that it kills. There will be a false sense of well being in the Taser’s use, which will invariable get the user into trouble.
We are a civilized country, contrary to Guantanamo and Abu graib, and we cannot tolerate a weapon of torture to be used on our citizenry, not even by law enforcement. We prize liberty, human rights and the Rule of Law. There is no room for the Taser.
The Legislature should act to prohibit its use. The city of Red Wing should abandon its use.
The Red Wing Police Department is too professional, too well trained and too smart to have to rely on an instrument of torture to do their job. The Cookston tragedy is close to home and should constitute a wake up call to Red Wing.