Despite their instant pop culture notoriety from that YouTube video of the young man begging a University of Florida cop, ‘Don’t Tase me, bro,’ Tasers are really not such a laughing matter.
In some cases a Taser can kill you as quickly and easily as a police officer’s Glock pistol. Tasers are designed to give a profound, sudden trauma to the central nervous system, a trauma that by definition some people will not survive.
Generally I like what interim police Chief Willie Lovett has been doing since he took over after the departure of Michael Berkow. However, I’m not sure what to make of his recent push to equip local police with Tasers.
Simply put, I trust Chief Lovett, but I don’t trust human nature. And that’s really what we’re talking about here.
I’ve noticed over the years that the most polarizing hot–button issue is not abortion or religion or politics, but the issue of police conduct. Some of the most vicious arguments I’ve ever witnessed have been on that subject.
Some people have blind faith in police and would give them literally any amount of latitude. Others view police as cruel, mindless robots. Both extremes, of course, make the same crucial mistake of dehumanizing officers.
The police are our fellow citizens and neighbors and parishioners, after all, and they’re just as subject as any of us to being good or bad or both at different times.
Therein lies the problem.
I’m sure it’s true that Tasers keep unruly suspects from harming officers. But it’s also true that there are many documented instances across the nation of police using Tasers on those who aren’t resisting arrest at all.
Sometimes, as in the 2008 Taser–caused death of 17–year–old Darryl Turner in Charlotte, N.C., officers have used Tasers before talking to a suspect or even identifying them.
It’s easy to say we can’t judge all police by isolated incidents. But Taser–related deaths are really not that isolated. Over the last decade over 350 people have died after being Tased.
Your response to that statistic is a valuable litmus test, by the way. My response is, wow, maybe we should be more careful. But in my experience a large percentage of you — perhaps a majority — will say those people must have done something to deserve it.
We have to put aside our preconceived notions and reach a middle ground where we acknowledge that the wise use of Tasers can save police lives while also acknowledging that police are never above an obligation to act responsibly in the use of force.
Chief Lovett says he’ll opt to use Tasers that have automatic cameras. That sounds great until you realize that the whole point is to find out what happened before the Taser is pulled out, to determine the context of its use.
In the end, if we accept that Tasers can help protect officers from harm, then we must also treat Tasers as we treat that Glock the officer has on the other side of his or her hip.
Every use of a Taser must trigger a full investigation, just as with the officer’s sidearm. And if someone dies from improper use of a Taser, criminal and civil penalties should apply just as if a gun were used wrongly.
To those that will die, it won’t matter whether it was by electric shock or by bullet. The result will be the same.
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"And you deserve better."
Thanks, Jim, for my new campaign slogan.