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Tasers: a substitute for guns, not policing

With yet another taser-associated incident in the news this morning, the usefulness and purpose of the weapon must be examined.

The two fundamental questions about tasers for me are:

1: What is it intended to do? What ability is the weapon intended to provide that is not otherwise available to a police officer?

2: What does it actually do? That is, how has it affected police, suspect, and bystander related injuries and fatalities since its introduction six years ago?

The first seems, on the surface, very straightforward. In my view, a taser is specifically designed to replace a gun. If the officer would otherwise be forced to shoot and kill the suspect, the taser is a viable alternative that will only debilitate and hurt the suspect. It's laudable, it's useful, it, theoretically, reduces deaths.

So the important question is the second one. What are the actual effects of this weapon? Judging by news headlines recently, police are using the taser with little delay or avoidance, treating it more like a cannister of pepper spray or a pair of handcuffs than as a substitute for their firearms. People are getting hurt, and while they are not necessarily dying of electrocution, many are still dying in connection to the weapon.

I do not have the answer to the question, but how do injuries and deaths of suspects especially, but also of police officers themselves and of bystanders compare now to the period before the taser was introduced? If it can be reasonably ascertained that fewer people are getting hurt or killed now than before, then we can assume that tasers, while occasionally misused, are an improvement. If the 17 deaths, plus the one in Nova Scotia this morning, associated with taser use are substantially more than would otherwise have happened, then tasers are definitely the wrong way to go or are being seriously misused or overused.

The rules of engagement relating to tasers must be made public and reviewed to understand at what point police are authorised or expected to fire their tasers. More importantly, there needs to be an understanding by those using the weapon that it is a potentially lethal weapon and that it should only be used as a substitute for lethal force.

Posted at 10:54 on November 22, 2007

This entry has been archived. Comments can no longer be posted.

Why Jack Layton wants a Harper Majority | legal | Harpocracy at its finest

Manuel writes at Thu Nov 22 14:27:48 EST 2007...

Personally I think it's only a misuse of the tool, That and people who don't have the character to be cops are becoming cops thanks to the lack standards of the RCMP these days in the Rush to meet the demand for officers. Analytical Skills are a must for someone in that kind of position. Sadly the vast majority of people don't have the skill to drive let alone the ability to defuse a situation involving other people.

Donovan writes at Fri Nov 23 20:47:30 EST 2007...

What I think the biggest problem is here is that the Taser has been presented as a non-lethal weapon. It should be presented as a less-than-lethal weapon. It should be treated as a lethal weapon and deployed accordingly.

It is very easy to become lazy and take the easy way out. If you have the choice to use a taser to drop someone or use physical force to take them down, it's a lot easier to point a tool and pull the trigger.

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