Should Cops Use Tasers?

May 5, 2010

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A couple of days ago, an idiot fan ran across the field during a Phillies-Cardinals game and was chased by authorities and subdued with a blast from a Taser. This incidents brings to mind the controversy of whether or not Tasers should be used by law enforcement.

Opponents of Taser use point to statistics of deaths that have occurred following shocks from a Taser.  (For those who aren’t familiar with them, Tasers are stun guns which temporary incapacitate with a high voltage electrical charge).  However, there are some flaws with these statistics.  First of all, many of the deaths have occurred during violent struggles during which a Taser has been used.  However, even if the Taser wasn’t used, these situation would have a relatively high probability of serious injury or death – due to the fact that they involve violent struggles.  Breaking down the numbers to show how many deaths were directly caused by the Tasers is much more difficult.

A second problem is that people seem to want to compare these numbers to a baseline of 0 deaths.  However, it’s important to note that a Taser is one option available to law enforcement personnel.  If the Taser were not available, the law enforcement officer would still have to subdue the offender.  In many cases, it would be necessary to shoot the offender.  Getting shot with a Taser may have a certain degree of risk, but I think I’d prefer it to a Glock-induced lead injection.  Additionally, bullets can ricochet and hit innocent bystanders.  The maximum range of a Taser is about 30 feet – so the 5 year old playing 100 feet away isn’t endangered by an errant Taser shot.

It’s also important to bear in mind the fact that subduing the offender can prevent injuries to innocent bystanders.  The reality is that the safety of the innocent bystanders should trump considerations about the safety of the offender.  After all, they have done nothing wrong, whereas the offender has committed a crime.  In many cases, it is absolutely necessary to use force to subdue an offender.  Not everyone meekly allows themselves to be cuffed.

As you can see, I support the use of Tasers by law enforcement.  In my opinion, Tasers can provide a safer alternative to discharging a firearm.  However, I do have some caveats.

First, it’s very important for people to realize that the Taser is a weapon, and not some cool tech toy.  A few years ago, I cringed when I heard the story about a cop Tasering his son at the request of the so, who wanted to see how it felt.  I am certain that these incidents are rare, but nonetheless are disturbing.  Would the same officer have shot his son with a gun if the kid wanted to know what it felt like?  Probably not.

Second, it’s important to gauge the severity of the crime.  Tasers should probably not be used to subdue jaywalkers and people with overdue library books.  Taser use should be used for any situations which allow for the use of deadly force, as well as other situations where the safety of law enforcement officers of the public is at risk.  The safety of law enforcement and the public should be given more importance than the safety of someone who just committed a crime – they put themselves into the dangerous situation.

Should the Taser have been used at the Phillies game?  I’m a bit torn.  On the one hand, it seems that security probably could have captured the guy without the use of the Taser.  Even if the guy had managed to elude them, tens of thousands of fans would have been happy to aid in the capture.  On the other hand, you need only to look back to the on-field attack of Royals coach Tom Gamboa by two “fans” in 2002 to be concerned about the safety of on-field personnel.

I support the use of Tasers by law enforcement, while also promoting continued training on their proper use.

One Comment (+add yours?)

  1. Evan @ 40Tech
    May 06, 2010 @ 17:40:17

    I’m torn on this, too. Part of me loathes the idea that the government can use force like this, when someone breaks a rule. Where do we draw the line? I don’t think anyone thought that the nitwit who got zapped was really a threat, so it probably was unnecessarily.

    On the other hand, my emotional, irrational side really gets ticked off by numbskulls like that, especially after seeing it happen again the next night, when Hamels was pitching a gem and in the middle of delivering his first pitch of the ninth.

    So, my gut says “tase away,” while my brain is really worried about where the country is headed as far as governmental power,
    .-= Evan @ 40Tech´s last blog ..Ubuntu 10.04: New Features and a Manual But Still Linux =-.


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