Flutterby™! : tasers & cops don't mix

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tasers & cops don't mix

2007-09-20 14:12:38.979022+00 by Dan Lyke 13 comments

Hey, you know how "tasers" were introduced as safe because they're an alternative to deadly force? Apparently Tustin, California police didn't get the memo, check this response to their tasering an autistic teenager:

"If that were your son, would you want him Tased or hit by a car?" Amormino asked.

Uhhh... yeah, so if you hadn't had the taser, would you have drawn your service pistol?

[ related topics: moron Law Enforcement Guns ]

comments in ascending chronological order (reverse):

#Comment Re: made: 2007-09-20 15:05:21.408471+00 by: JT

Every cop's first priority is to go home at the end of shift. Should I chase an autistic person through traffic where he's almost being hit by cars, or use something to stop him and then pull him off the side of the road to safety? Should I wrestle with a drunk and violent woman trying to get into the front seat of my car, or should I jump into a confined space and try to wrestle with her while she kicks and bites me? Should I let someone who's agitated and showing violent tendencies become even more agitated with the security risk of a senator and presidential candidate in the room, should me and my other smaller female partner try to wrestle this larger college kid down to the ground, or should we use something to incapacitate him and take him out of the situation as quickly as possible.

The choices used to be fists, sticks, or guns.

The choices are now taser, pepper spray, pressure-point control tactics, fists, sticks, then guns.

I like the choices now. Less injury for cops, less injuries and deaths for arrestees. I've been hit with a taser 3 times, been pepper sprayed more times than I can remember, and have had pressure-point used on me for a solid week while learning it and then every year for review... I'd take any one of those before a fist to the face or a bullet to the chest. These tactics aren't being over-used, these tactics are low on the police "use of force continuum" because they're to be used before other more potentially injurious options.

#Comment Re: made: 2007-09-20 15:35:55.162201+00 by: Dan Lyke

I don't mean to question the veracity of your claim, JT, but I think that if you've got statistics on the "less injuries and deaths for arrestees" statement I'd really love to look at them.

Not to argue with them, I think you may be right, but if there are numbers out there to point to it'd be a good consciousness raising exercise for me to read 'em.

On the whole "wacko hollering questions at Kerry" thing, I think the police were totally within their rights to tase the hell out of that guy.

#Comment Re: made: 2007-09-20 15:45:21.374088+00 by: ebradway

JT: There's also the real possibility that the autistic person would cause a car to swerve into oncoming to miss him, resulting in fatalities.

Sure, the Taser isn't perfectly safe or 'non-lethal'. Nothing is perfectly safe. But as you say, it's much preferably to being clubbed or shot.

I know it's a far stretch, but when I took lifeguard training, the first thing I was taught was to use all available methods to perform a rescue without going into the water. Lifeguards are routinely drowned by panicking victims.

But there is another side to this. The police aren't generally seen a positive light. I even get nervous around cops because I fear getting ticketed for some silly thing I'm not even aware I'm doing. I also despise people who abuse authority and I think too many police officers do just that. (fyi: just one police officer abusing authority is "too many").

And that creates a tough standard for the police to live up to, but there is an enormous level of authority automatically imbued by putting on the uniform.

#Comment Re: made: 2007-09-20 16:10:38.090995+00 by: JT [edit history]

  I've worked in a handful of police departments and taught at a number of academies. You'd be amazed how many honest hard-working cops there are out there. There are so many good men and women who are proud to put their lives on the line every day to help the public and protect their towns and cities. That being said, there's always a couple in every police department that fit the whole "abuse of power" and "lay out my own personal justice" persona. Of course, when anything happens, it's those couple of people who end up on the news.

  I found this link attributing 5 deaths to tasers while looking up info on Mostafa Tabatabainejad, a student with bipolar disorder who was tased after refusing to show identification in a restricted library on UCLA's campus last year, however I think the number (if I remember from training correctly) was actually 7 or 8 as of about three years ago. I know I've read quite a few reports saying more than 20 have been linked to the use of a taser, however that number is far lower than people who have died from positional asphyxia. It seems it's safer to be tased than handcuffed and lying on their stomachs.

#Comment Re: made: 2007-09-20 16:23:19.22632+00 by: Dan Lyke

Thanks. Putting tasering as a risk in context with positional asphyxia is good.

And on Eric's point, there's the "bad apple" syndrome, where we notice the ones that go wrong, but having had some only slightly negative experiences lately I'm also wondering if a good portion of the problem isn't just the cops taking heat for town council or city manager issues. I was pulled over in Fairfax (California) earlier this year, basically for driving the speed limit, obviously didn't get a ticket (Charlene and I initially found it amusing, although we both kinda got pissed off afterwards), but it's well known, especially among teens, in the area that the Fairfax police do an awful lot of trolling, pulling over people and intimidating them in the hopes of uncovering something greater.

Given that San Anselmo (neighboring town with similar economics) police don't have that reputation, I can only believe that this is due to town policy, not to something inherent to either police or that department.

#Comment Re: made: 2007-09-20 16:39:05.128953+00 by: petronius

Taser stats: according to this report from 2006, 4 or 5 people a year die directly from Tasering by police, out of very roughly 16,000 people tasered per year. Statistics on deadly shootings by police are very hard to come by, but apparently from 1976 to about 2000 they averaged around 373 per year. BTW, in 2005, more than 50,000 police officers were assaulted while on duty, and 55 were killed. 15 of them were done in by traffic accidents.

#Comment Re: Tasers made: 2007-09-20 16:40:42.389479+00 by: m

There are a lot of discrepancies on Taser statistics. Some place Taser related deaths at 20 in the years 2001-2006, while others place this number at over 200. Some police departments claim that there are no known physical ills that predispose an individual to death or serious injury.

"Tasers aren't dangerous," said Taser International spokesman Steve Tuttle. "They are just used in dangerous situations."

Officers with police departments that use Tasers agree. "I'm not familiar with any medical condition or physical impairment that would be adversely affected by use of a Taser," said Henry County police spokesman Lt. Ken Turner, who doesn't use a Taser himself but whose department has used them for about six months. "This is a perfectly safe weapon." " PoliceOne.com

There is a lot of lying or ignorance going on here. At the very least, those persons with cardiac disease, especially those with electrical disturbances, are at extreme risk. A host of other diseases like epilepsy, asthma, other pulmonary disease, etc., would clearly place an individual at high risk.

There have been frequent observations that there are no statistics kept on the number of civilians killed by police, either perpetrators or bystanders. In any event I have never seen them. The only stats kept are for the number of law enforcement agents killed. This makes it impossible to determine any type of appropriate balance in the use of these or any other weapons.

#Comment Re: made: 2007-09-20 17:03:37.757765+00 by: JT

  Here are some statistics that were collected by Taser.com, but mind you, they're collected by taser.com. Be sure to judge the message as well as the messenger in this case unless you plan on researching their data collection as well.

Any statistics you want to find are usually tracked by the US Dept. of Justice at the Bureau of Justice Statistics here which has quite a bit of good information, although sometimes a bit difficult to navigate.

#Comment Re: Stats made: 2007-09-20 18:19:59.402691+00 by: m


Thank you for the references. But, given the caveats described in the Times in the comment by Petronius (which I had not seen at the time I posted my comment), and the warnings and limitations described in the report itself, I can understand why these statistics are discounted. It seems the main purpose of this report is to demonstrate statistical insignificance to a racial role in such homicides.

As far as Taser Inc is concerned, if the PoliceOne.com quote is correct, their objectivity in this matter must be more than suspect.

Most importantly, the number of police caused deaths of civilian bystanders, nonjustifiable homicides, nonfelons, and accidental deaths is not listed. If these numbers are reasonably comparable to the number of police dead, then there is evidence that police policies and weaponry are in balance. If the numbers are significantly different, it implies that changes need to be made.

As an example: one of the areas in which such changes are being made is in high speed pursuits in some areas. Such pursuits can be more dangerous than the original crime, and cause more damage than picking the suspects up later at home or their usual hangouts. Yet some localities will engage in these pursuits not only for low grade felonies, but minor misdemeanors and violations as well.

#Comment Re: made: 2007-09-21 14:43:00.462571+00 by: DaveP

JT, once thing you missed is that the choices used to be TALKING, then "fists, sticks, or guns."

Talking seems to have been removed from the equation about the time that police forces started becoming more militarized (anecdotally, compare Andy Griffith to Sonny Crockett).

In Minneapolis last month, when confronted with the Critical Mass, Minneapolis Police attacked the Mass. Rather than attempting to talk (or use bullhorns), "Cruisers #993 and #9980 drove into the back of the mass at the corner of LaSalle and Grant and started to arrest a few cyclists." The police used their cars as weapons against bicycles by driving into the mass, escalating the situation when a softer initial response would have probably succeeded in derailing the misdemeanor misbehavior.

The biggest change I've seen is not in the use of tasers or pepper spray, but in the lack of use of talking as a first step.

#Comment Re: made: 2007-09-21 15:08:36.524303+00 by: JT


  I read a different version of that article. I'm a somewhat avid cyclist myself, barring occasional knee injuries, and I'd read about critical mass a number of times before.

  In actuality, the use of force continuum in police departments doesn't start with voice. It starts with presence. The presence of a policeman actually changes the outcome of many things, which is why just "showing up" is considered a mile use of force on it's own.

As a differing point of reference, I think the beginning of the incident as described by the news channel's site gives a substantially different description of the atmosphere as opposed to cops going nuts and driving their cars into a group of bicyclists at random...

Police tried to arrest that bicyclist on Hennepin Avenue, but were unsuccessful. In a videotape of the incident provided by a friend of one of the bicyclists, the crowd grew vocal and restless as officers tried to make the arrest. "What's the charge? What's the charge?" the group chanted.

According to Police, the bicyclist escaped back into the mass of riders. Officers made another attempt at an arrest on LaSalle Street, not far from Loring Park, at 7:15 p.m. Friday.

"There were individuals physically trying to pull officers off the individual under arrest," said Deputy Chief Allen. That's when the officers called for backup, and at least 50 squad cars responded to the scene.

#Comment Re: made: 2007-09-21 15:33:10.226992+00 by: Dan Lyke

So perhaps the meta question here is: Why are upper middle class white males (like me, probably like a good portion of that crowd chanting "what's the charge?") so distrustful of police in general, and what can be done to fix this?

I mean, I haven't had a ticket in a decade and a half, all of my exchanges with law enforcement in that period have been smiles and waves (and the two tickets I have gotten previous to that I was busted fair and square), I've even been hit from behind on a bicycle because I stopped at a stop sign and the car behind me didn't...

But my first reaction is to assume that, in any altercation between a cyclist (or a skater or what have you) and a cop, that the cop is wrong (part of that is based on watching police cars at stop lights and stop signs...). Similarly, I love that my sleepy little community and 30MPH speed zone following a stretch where people run full speed has CHP and the county sheriff running speed traps, but if I see a police car up on our privately maintained road I bristle just a little bit.

I see two issues: The first is that I too see escalation before discussion, but when I heard my grandfather bitch about Miranda and how that killed the ability of the police in his town to maintain order, I think that beyond "SWAT" and similar paramilitary tactices, there's also a cultural shift in how we perceive "the law".

Which comes to the second part: We mistrust government and the legal process. The police are the most visible part of that.

#Comment Re: made: 2007-09-22 16:05:20.831161+00 by: DaveP

JT, I wasn't trying to imply that the cops weren't provoked. The entire thing started escalating when the first guy was "unarrested" by the mass.

The cops could have kept things cool by either leaving with him as soon as they took him into custody, or by not arresting him in the first place. (Riding "directly at cars" is a common occurrance during Mass rides.)

Instead they took him into custody, and then stayed there, jawboning outside their car. That's going to lead to attempts to unarrest the person. Then (this is from a meeting between MPD and some Mass reps this week) the cops called in an "officer in distress" call (not "needs assistance" -- the Chief was very clear on that) and the mass rode away. About a dozen blocks later the second arrest attempt was made, and that began with two cruisers pushing through a line of bikes that were serving as a rear-guard for the ride.

Most of the Mass still remember 2002 when MPD did their previous "crackdown" on Critical Mass, confiscating dozens of bikes because they weren't registered, but relations have been mostly good since then. With the RNC coming here next year, and the PreNC "welcoming committee" at the mass ride last month, I suspect the cops saw that it was time to "send a message".

After all, St. Paul has a shiny new ordinance which would allow them to arrest the entire Mass if the ride crossed the river ("Parading without a permit"), and I'm sure the Minneapolis cops are feeling left out.

The positive thing to come from this is that MPD will probably still be on a very short leash when the Republicans come to town next year.