From the Mothballs: Taser Debate

I sometimes forget I wanted to be a serious journalist at one point. I’m not sure I even have to ability to write objectively anymore. I read this and I cringe. I suppose that’s why I’ve been using my Journalism diploma as a coaster these past three years

The great Taser debate rages on. For those keeping track, though Tasers have been killing people since their inception, and used recklessly by police for years, the issue blazed into mainstream policy discussion following the video-recorded death of Robert Dziekanski at Vancouver International Airport two months ago.

First, the UN Committee against Torture likened the use of stun guns to “a form of torture.” Shortly after, Taser International fired back at the UN, calling them “out of touch” and insinuating that their efforts to ban the Taser would, in turn, cause more torture. At least, that’s what I got from it. Here’s the exact quote from Taser International Founder and Chairman Tom Smith:

“TASER devices have saved thousands of lives worldwide and dramatically reduce injuries of officers and suspects in every community they are deployed.

“We would hope that the United National Committee Against Torture, as well as human rights group around the globe, would embrace our revolutionary technology and choose to work with us in our efforts to reduce violence and protect life. Simply issuing baseless and factually incorrect statements will not end violence or torture and may only serve to weaken efforts intended to protect life.”

I follow some of that, and a part of me agrees with the pro-Taser crowd.  I would rather cops use a two second electrical jolt to stop a knife wielding maniac than use their guns. I also think more people have died or become seriously injured after cops get too carried away with their batons than by the Taser.

That was until the Taser killed a Nova Scotia man a few weeks later. And another, in Montreal. Then I read a report by Amnesty International which said Tasers were extremely dangerous (especially seeing as how they were applied to cuffed victims in half the deaths covered in the report), and called for the suspension of their use. I’ll admit Amnesty can be quite alarmist, but I, in this case, agree with most of their findings.

It seems to me, police are turning to the Taser much too quickly. If a situation escalates, officers simply reach for the Taser and take the suspect down. Tasers, while, in itself, an effective law enforcement tool, are not always used to diffuse dangerous situations but rather to punish noncompliance and perceived disrespect. Without getting into a police-bashing rant, I don’t think we can trust these people to use such a powerful weapon judiciously. Though not all police officers are as reckless doling out shocks as it now seems, we’ve been shown time and time again if a pain-causing device is given to someone in a position of authority (especially if they believe the weapon to be non-fatal), they will use it

Rather than ban the Taser outright, I think law enforcement should restrict their use to only the most dangerous situations.

I wouldn’t mind seeing the police departments adopt a requirement that all officers fill out a report justifying their use of the Taser, on the occasions they do. Also, the instances where Taser use is acceptable could probably use some tightening up – maybe restricting use to instances where the suspect approaches the officer with a weapon and a few others where the officer or a civilian is in immediate danger.

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