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This entry has been archived.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.