Civil Rights – Policies of Police Taser Use
Martin Luther King forced amazing changes to the American people through nonviolent protests, marches and moving speeches contributing greatly to the freedoms Americans have come to rely upon and trust in every day. Today, in observance of Martin Luther King Jr. Day, I have relived the brutal police action of 1960’s via television specials and Martin Luther King web casts which got me thinking; do we need another Martin Luther King to put us back on track and prioritize Americans Civil RIghts? This leads me to a further pressing question and the point at hand for this article, “Do the police have too much ungoverned authority and power to use Tasers upon everyday citizens”?
After a rather personal encounter with common police tactics using Conducted Energy Devices (CED) or more specifically a Taser, I am curious as to whether our civil rights are being violated by over 7,000 police departments on the daily basis due to them not having consistent and appropriate regulations governing the use of Tasers use, the medical consequences of the Taser and whether Taser use as it stands is violating our civil rights. As a citizen, you be the judge.
Tasers – Electronic Controlled Weapon Technology
The police weaponry in question is the ECW, or Electronic Controlled Weapon. The most utilized CED by the nation’s police forces is the Taser. This product is built, tested and distributed by Taser International. According to Taser Internationals’ website, “TASER energy devices are classified as ‘Non-Lethal Weapons’ (NLW) by the United States Department of Defense. NLWs are defined as weapons that are explicitly designed and primarily employed so as to incapacitate personnel or material, while minimizing fatalities, permanent injury to personnel, and undesired damage to property and the environment.” Taser International has sold over 200,000 units to 9,800 law enforcement agencies around the world. (www.taser.com)
Picture of a Taser
The Taser has two main settings as a stopping device. One setting is its use in “Drive Stun Mode”. In this mode, the Taser is to be used similar to a cattle prod for an up close stun weapon to be utilized as pain compliance for close up stopping power. The second setting is to use it as a nonlethal weapon fired from up to 15 feet away using its CO2 powered projectile twin barbs to shoot through up to 3 inches of clothing and into the subjects’ skin delivering a minimum of 50,000 volts of electricity.
Police Use of Force Policies and the Taser
In order to discuss the Police Departments right to use force, we must first look at Police departments’ use of force policies and where the Taser fits into this agenda. Most police departments follow a very simple Use of Force Continuum. This simply states a police officers action and reaction to suspects’ actions in a variety of situations.
The California based San Diego Police Department has the taser on the level of “greater controlling force” at the same level as chemical incapacitant sprays and “takedown techniques” and “distraction techniques” Their goal of using the Taser is to “reduce the amount of force, particularly deadly force, used in our law enforcement community and to effectively deescalate dangerous situations”.
The Arizona based Mesa Police Department places Tasers at the same level as “limited hard hands” and if the police officers encounter “defensive resistance…physical actions on the part of the suspect who is ingoring verbal commands, which attempt to prevent the officers control, but do not constitute an assault.”
Use of Force Continuum
Police Tactices – Excessive Force
Along with this use of force continuum the understanding of excessive force must be acquired. According to the U.S. Government Accountability office, “Force is excessive when its application is inappropriate to the circumstances…the primary concern is whether the on-scene officer reasonably believes that its application was necessary and appropriate.” Based on this “reasonableness standard”, whether or not a police officer used excessive force may be determined based on the following;
1. The severity of the crime
2. The nature and extent of the threat posed by the suspect
3. The degree to which the suspect resists arrest or detention
4. Any attempts by the suspect to evade arrest by fight or flight
Medical Consequences of Taser Use
As of date, most studies on the medical consequences and side effects of Taser use found that there was a “lower injury injury potential (with tasers)…than current use of unarmed defensive tactics, baton strikes and deployment of police dogs” and that “stun devices are certainly less lethal than firearms and if they are to be deployed in similar circumstances and level of threat, then the outcome will almost certainly be safer.” Further research shows that Taser use is “essentially safe on healthy people” and people that are not under the influence of alcohol, drugs, narcotics or are pregnant.
Taser Use Violating our Civil Rights – You be the Judge
“Amnesty International considers the deployment of tasers on an individual who is resisting arrest passively by trying to hide their hands as an excessive use of force (like: Ghandi, Martin Luther King)”. The unfortunate fact of the matter is that many people being tasered are not healthy people, or are being tasered while being arrested for being under the influence of some sort of drug or alcohol putting them at a larger risk of a cardiac event. Also, there is also no way for a police officer to see plainly if a woman is in her first trimester of pregnancy. Have the effects of 50,000 volts been tested on a fetus yet?
Passive Protesters being FireHosed by Police
After researching this story, I can’t help but think of the Taser stories that have recently been in the news along with the 70 plus deaths Amnesty International is publicizing after being tasered in the past 5 years. The UCLA student who was Tasered while passively resisting UCLA Police Officers was obviously not a threat to the guard, the taser was used as a compliance tool, much like the fire hose of the 1960’s civil rights movement. The more recent event was the 118 pound girl tasered by the Carlsbad Police Department after leaving a bar that would not allow her to use the bathroom. Was the use of Tasers in these situations equal to the severity of the crimes and the nature of the threats projected by the detainees? Were they so great that a 50,000 volt Taser was necessary? My opinion is that neither the stun gun function nor the shooting dart function of the Taser gun should ever be used to force a person to comply with a police officers order when there is no immediate threat to the officer, the suspect or those surrounding them.
The United States boasts being one of the world’s last superpowers with absolute freedom for US Citizens. Right? As much as I love the great freedoms our forefathers have provide for us and appreciate the infinite opportunity I have as a U.S. citizen, I question this absolute freedom as I learn more about new found police weaponry, in the form of electronic Tasers, that are not governed by standardized rules and regulations throughout the nations police departments. As citizens we need to police our police to ensure our Civil Rights are not being violated.
After learning about Tasers, their use by police, their nonstandardized position on the Use of Force Continuum, Amnesty Internationals pleas to halt Taser use due to the medical consequence associated with it, the United Nations view on electric shock being a form of torture; should our police departments around the US be deploying these Tasers on taxpayers?
I say conclusively, “NO to Police Taser Use.” Tasers should not be in use by our nations police departments until extensive testing proves that Tasers are non-lethal, Until Taser Use is Standardized into the Use of Force Continuum federally for EVERY POLICE DEPARTMENT TO FOLLOW and proper training has been completed by all police departments using the taser.
I found a great article on Tasers from November 2006; Read it here