Taser’s image is stunning, too | VailDaily.com
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Taser’s image is stunning, too

Alan Branholtz

The clips of repeated stunning of a student in a library for ignoring police officer commands raise the same questions as the infamous Tasering of a streaker at Jackson Hole’s Demolition Derby in 2005. The image of a naked man flopping around in the dirt is superficially funny until you realize the pain and degradation he’s suffering. Is it necessary to Taser a naked man to arrest him (though he was “armed” with a fire extinguisher), or are the police being lazy or vindictive? A Tasers is an impressive weapon, using a 9-volt battery to produce a high voltage shock but very little current, which makes it safe and effective for immobilizing people. A Taser can be used at a distance or as a contact stun gun, with one trigger pull producing a five-second pulsed charge. Everyone who’s experienced one calls it extremely painful with the loss of body control quite embarrassing. Holding onto an electric fence for five seconds would be a long time.In the 1990s the British government saw electric-shock weapons as designed primarily for torture and pushed for a global ban after horror stories from oppressive regimes. After their growth in law enforcement, not to mention Abu Ghraib and other stories, that all seems a little quaint.Most law officers trained to use them are also required to experience a hit to know what it feels like. Often this is only a one-and-a-half-second pulse instead of the full five seconds. The Las Vegas Police Department stopped requiring officers to experience it after they complained – presumably it was too unpleasant.Originally designed as a non-lethal alternative to situations that otherwise would require lethal force, Tasers undoubtedly have saved the lives of suspects, as well as reduced injuries to suspects and officers. I’d rather be Tasered than have my arm broken with a baton or shot if I violently lost it. But no force is ever absolutely non-lethal. “Less lethal” would be a better term for alternatives to firearms. Those under the influence of alcohol and drugs may be under a small risk of heart and breathing problems after repeated shocks, especially if restrained in awkward positions like being sat on or hog-tied. Then there’s the chance of hitting your head when falling or thrashing around. Another initially humorous tale of an unarmed burglar being Tasered out of a tree he’d climbed to escape guard dogs ends with the less funny knowledge that the fall paralyzed him and he really wasn’t going anywhere anyway, since he was surrounded and stuck up a tree.The least lethal option is negotiation and time to get a suspect to cooperate. This can be a hassle, and this is where Tasers show signs of mission creep. Instead of being used as an alternative to lethal force, they’re becoming a short cut to compliance, often used against non-violent people presenting no serious danger to themselves or others. Walk off or pull away, argue or sit down with passive resistance, and many police departments will Taser you.Statistics produced by Taser International in 2002 regarding 2,050 deployments found 79.6 percent of suspects were unarmed and at 37 percdent, the most common suspect force level was verbal non-compliance. A Denver Post study in 2004 found that one-third of 112 people Tasered were handcuffed at the time, with repeated shocks given to shut them up or settle them down. U.S. law enforcement policy specifically prohibits using restraints as punishment, but stunning handcuffed people in the name of compliance blurs this line.I understand that confrontations with disturbed people can quickly escalate and that nipping one in the bud before it does is desirable and especially preventing someone from walking away to a car, house or room where they may be a weapon especially so. Still, I shudder every time someone broadcasts a clip of apparently unnecessary stun gun use. It looks horrific.If I were a police chief, I’d be upset, too. A Taser is a valuable tool for officers in a high-stress job, but too many images of them used against “hey that could be me” average citizens will undermine the consent we’ve given for its use The perception of policing only by compliance is not a good one. The Denver police chief reacted to public unease by restricting the city’s Taser policy only to suspects exhibiting active aggression or aggravated active aggression. This makes sense, as it prevents a possible backlash against what is a useful tool and shows the department is sensitive to the public’s concerns. Also there’s a lot of camera-phones out there these days.Alan Braunholtz of Vail writes a weekly column for the Daily. Vail Daily, Vail Colorado CO


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