On December 4th, 2009, I wrote a post called "Tasers & The Use of Force". The impetus behind the post was a long-continuing discussion on another blog about the use of Tasers by police departments, particularly when a Taser shooting results in a death.
In the post, I discussed the laws regarding the use of force, Supreme Court decisions, definitions of deadly force, the difference between the terms "less-lethal" and "non-lethal", and other things relevant to the subject. My hope was to add some input from a law enforcement perspective. What is more, I wanted to provide a little education for folks who may not have a clear view on the subject. I wanted to present this information as just that, information... information without emotion, which is the best way to teach on a sensitive subject like this.
As you might imagine, the post generated several comments. Some of the comments were clearly written by people didn't read the whole post, who were rather voluble on the subject. case in point, the following comment, by a certain Mr. Hawkins. I didn't respond to it then, but I think I will now... just because I need to. The commenter needs to read this. I hope that he will.
"i want it to say if one person is killed by a taser it is one to many! cops and taser international contends it is safe--for who? the cops or the person who refuses to take comands from the police? tasers is a firearm! i do not see how a taser is a soft technique.
that is 50,000 volts going through a persons body when they use only 2,450 volts in a electric chair for executions! i think there needs to be more restraints on the use of deasdly force with tasers. you can't say that woops we killed one and it was not suppose to happen --sorry! it doesn't work that way. one death is one to many. what was life like before the taser? mmm..."
Dear Mr. Hawkins,
I agree that one accidental death is one too many... but accidental death happens all of the time through happenstance as well the mysterious "act of God" that we struggle to understand. The fact that accidental deaths happen in law enforcement shouldn't be a shock, as it should be expected in an arena where weapons are regularly used.
As for Taser International's assertion that Tasers are safe, I would have to agree. Please remember that "Safe" means lots of different things, but in this instance, Tasers ARE safe. Safe for the users and relatively safe for the person it is used on. Whether the person is a trainee, or a non-compliant subject is immaterial.
Tasers, sir, are NOT firearms, and cannot be classified as such since they don't meet in criteria listed in the definition of firearm, to wit:
According to 18 USC (United States Code) Section 921, the following are included within the definition
-- any weapon (including a starter gun) which will or is designed to or may readily be
converted to expel a projectile by the action of any explosive;
-- the frame or receiver of any weapon described above;
-- any firearm muffler or firearm silencer;
-- any destructive device, which includes:
(a) any explosive, incendiary, or poison gas
(3). Rocket having a propellant charge of more than four ounces,
(4). Missile having an explosive or incendiary charge of more than one-quarter
(5). Mine, or
(6). Similar device
(b) any weapon which will, or which may be readily converted to, expel a projectile by
the action of an explosive or other propellant, and which has any barrel with a bore of
more than one-half inch in diameter
(c) any combination or parts either designed or intended for use in converting any
device into any destructive device described in the two immediately preceding examples,
and from which a destructive device may be readily assembled.
As for Tasers not being "soft" technique, I beg to differ. Once again, I ask you to read the definition. Soft Techniques are described as having "Minimal chance of injury eg; "come along" holds, Pressure points, electronic defense modules, chemical agents." Tasers fit that description quite well, as most people who have this device used against them have no lasting effects. I realize that you don't THINK that it is a soft technique, sir, but in this intance you are wrong.
OK, now let me address your comments about more restraints on deadly force with Tasers.... I don't know how much I can say here other than to repeat the fact that Tasers are not deadly force weapons. Remember, deadly force is described as any use of force that is LIKELY to cause death or serious physical injury. Tasers simply don't fill that niche.
Now, let's talk a little about your last statement... well, question, really. You asked what life was like before the era of the Taser. Well, here is my answer, and I hope you dig it. Before the advent of Tasers, pepper spray, and other less-lethal weaponf, if an officer needed a weapon, he either had to use a baton or his sidearm to subdue a suspect. I don't know how old you are, sir, but I'll tell you one thing, I know enough about weapons to know that I would rather be Tasered that struck, full power, with a steel baton.
Yes, steel batons. You see, in pre-Taser America, if force requirements didn't warrant deadly force, your baton was it. Do you think it was better or more humane to beat someone with a baton (which almost always causes broken bones)? You do realize, of course, that probably more suspects have died as the result of being struck with batons than have died in Taser incidents... right? You realize, of course, how often Tasers get used in America, right? I am certain that in the next 36 to 48 hours, at least a hundred non-compliant or violent offenders will be Tasered across the country, and most of them will have no other effects beyond momentary pain and/or immobilization.
Look, being stunned with a Taser is unpleasant... it is designed to be unpleasant. People who get Tased, in general, aren't just a bunch of people standing on the corner, peacebly minding their own business. Sometimes unintended things happen, but that's just the way the world works.