Thursday, November 15, 2007

This ex-cop says it's time to rein in tasers

Once touted as a great alternative weapon for law enforcement, the "taser" -- a high voltage electric stun gun -- is coming under increasing attack worldwide.

The latest questionable incident occurred at the Vancouver airport where a mentally distressed Polish man was electrocuted at least twice -- some witnesses say it was more than that -- by officers who appeared to have done nothing else to try to calm what was visibly not a life-threatening situation.

The video of this runs about ten minutes long and is "graphic."

I'll leave some room for argument that we shouldn't rush to judgment until all the facts are known but many law enforcement professionals around the world who have seen this are shocked that no other apparent attempt was made to deal with this situation.

As the number of deaths related to taser use continue to climb I say it's time to consider the taser as a deadly weapon. Frankly, we got along in law enforcement 30 years ago without them by use of other alternatives: mace (pepper spray), clubs, flashlights and -- don't forget this -- talking.

Yes, talking.

In the old days the use of significant force in law enforcement -- except in cases where required -- was often seen as failure to control the situation by less violent means. Any cop will tell you that someone who is excited, inebriated, stoned or deranged may not always be controllable by mace or pepper spray (mace is tear gas) or even a taser. However, we often dealt with these people by using our heads, not weapons. Sometimes it worked, sometimes it didn't. But the generally accepted practice was to exhaust nonviolent (and certainly nonlethal) means first before escalating.

Except in extreme cases I morally can't see the use of electric weapons.

With over three decades in law enforcement I'm far from being a bleeding heart but I see nothing right about risking rewiring someone's hard drive by use of an electric weapon. I can't morally justify doing that to another human being.

Law enforcement agencies were sold a bill of goods by taser manufacturers and their legions about what a great and option this is. And I'll concede that in some situations the taser has a valid place in law enforcement.

But the rising death count resulting from taser use suggests that the risks/benefits analysis has shifted to the point where the time has come to curb taser use.

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