Thursday, November 12, 2009

Don’t taze me bro!

Has there ever been a worse idea in the history of police work than the stun gun? Seriously, what’s the point of these things? If you’re close enough to use one, the target clearly isn’t armed with a deadly weapon. So why not use that police training and get in there and subdue the guy the old-fashioned way (assuming that’s even necessary)? Stun guns are for lazy and/or cowardly police officers unwilling to do their jobs properly.

Nothing makes this point more clearly than the “don’t taze me bro” incident.

Now the family of a New York City police officer is suing the city after the officer committed suicide. The alleged reason for his suicide is that he was disciplined after ordering a stun gun be used on a man who subsequently fell to his death.

Let’s review the facts of the matter. The man who was tazed was mentally ill. He was waving a large fluorescent bulb after running naked from his apartment onto the fire escape. The officer ordered the use of a stun gun to subdue him.

A few things are obvious here: 1) the man was not armed other than with a light bulb—he was naked, so he clearly wasn’t hiding another weapon; 2) the officer who ordered the use of the stun gun was not alone, since people generally don’t give orders to themselves.

Not obvious but easily inferred is that a naked man waving a light bulb is probably not a threat to anyone but himself and at a distinct disadvantage in a confrontation with multiple armed police officers, at a minimum carrying firearms and handcuffs and likely also wearing bulletproof vests and carrying a club of some sort.

So why was a taser necessary? Answer: it wasn’t. In fact if we use this as a model for most police confrontations, we can carry it out to its logical conclusion. When is a taser ever necessary? Answer: never. Police work has been done effectively for centuries without them, so why are they needed now?

I’ll concede there are situations where it’s useful or convenient, but using it because it’s convenient is wholly unjustified.

“Ricky Bobby, why did you throw a stick of dynamite in the lake?”

“Because I wanted to catch some fish.”

Sure, dynamite may be more convenient than a worm and a hook, but does that mean it’s justified? So why do we allow police officers to use tasers just because they’re convenient, even when other methods would be just as or more effective? The answer is that we shouldn’t, because they’re bound to be abused.

Anyone who doesn’t think they’re prone to abuse need only look at Wikipedia to read about their use on children:

Police officers that patrol schools, including grade schools, in several U.S. states (including Kansas, Minnesota, Kentucky, Virginia and Florida) have been carrying Tasers since the early 2000s. In 2004, the parents of a 6-year-old boy in Miami sued the police department for tasering their child. The police said the boy was threatening to injure his own leg with a shard of glass, and claimed that using the Taser was the only option to stop the boy from injuring himself. Taser International asserts that the Taser is safe for use on anyone weighing 60 pounds (27 kg) or more. Nevertheless, the boy's mother told CNN that the three officers involved might have found it easier to reason with her child. Two weeks later, a 12-year-old girl skipping school was tasered in Miami-Dade.[68] In March 2008, an 11-year old girl was shocked by a Taser.[69] In March 2009, a 15-year-old boy died in Michigan after being tasered.[70]

In the case of a six year old boy, he was threatening to injure himself. So here’s an idea, stop him. With your hands. There were three of you, after all. I have a five-year-old boy whom I can subdue, without injuring him, at will, with two hands every time and with one hand 90% of the time. We call it “bear trap,” it’s his favorite game, and he only ever escapes if I let him (shhh, don’t tell him that).

If the kid was threatening to injure himself with a piece of glass, how the hell was sending an electrical current through his tiny body going to produce a better outcome? The first question is why an officer who would do such a thing is working in schools in the first place, but even allowing that, why was he carrying a taser?

Amnesty International and the ACLU (if any right-wingers (hi, dad!) are still reading, they just checked out—as if I weren’t preaching to the choir already) have suggested that taser use constitutes cruel, unusual, and degrading treatment and therefore violates the UN convention on human rights. When confronted with this, the CEO of Taser International countered that the UN was “out of touch” with the needs of modern policing. I love the use of the word “needs” in this context.

Back to the case of the New York City officer, his suicide was unfortunate. But frankly, disciplinary action in this situation was wholly justified. He should have been removed from his position and put in one where he couldn’t irresponsibly order the use of what was in this case a deadly weapon on a mentally ill and defenseless man.

The trouble is that not only could he not accept the consequences of his actions, but now neither can his family.

"They ripped his heart out," Susan Pigott said of her husband, Michael. "He was treated so unfairly."

He was treated unfairly? What about the naked guy who got shot up with electricity and fell to his death? Was Pigott’s use of force “fair” to him? And now Pigott’s family want the taxpayers, the victims of police tazing, to foot the bill. It’s disgusting and unnecessary. In this case, two lives would have been saved, along with an as-yet-to-be-determined amount of taxpayer dollars, were the New York City police not equipped with tasers.


  1. Not sure I agree here. How many people died from the blunt trauma related to knight sticks? I would bet we just do not know. Everything is being reported these days and I think it skews the numbers. There is a place for them. These cops just used horid judgement. But they could have used the same poor judgement with mace or a stick. Plus on I love watching people getting shocked with dog collars and tasers. Youtube is full of the stuff. I think I used to hunt with these guys.

  2. Blackdog, I see where you're coming from and agree with you that, if used properly and never abused, they would have their place.

    Here's the problem though: every time I get a new toy, I can't wait to use it. It's like I'm going to explode if I don't get to pedal the new crank or shift the new derailleur or ride the new skis. I can't imagine cops being any different. And let's face it, a taser is a way cool toy. The compulsion to misuse it makes abuse too easy.

    This coming from a guy who got clocked in the back of the head with a flashlight after committing the heinous crime of walking back to the parking lot after a concert.

  3. See the guy just wanted to use his flash light. Good thing they do not want to use their shiney new guns.

    I am with you. I got the crap beat out of me in Highschool for no reason. I would tell you the story but it takes way too long. It was a case of me being in the wrong place at the wrong time. Sandy Police back in the day.

  4. Uh, I agree with both of you. If used responsibly, it can be a useful weapon. For instance, if a guy is standing there with a knife and won't obey orders to put it down, the taser can work, bringing the guy down while keeping the officer out of the knife's reach (w/o using a gun).

    But, it seems like way, way too many cops use it for fun, being lazy, etc. Too many people getting tazed who are not armed, just unruly. It is like a shiny fun toy, but it extremely painful and in some cases result in death. Cops should receieve better training (not by the company who makes them) on when to use it and to be punished harshly when they use it contrary to training.

    mtb w

  5. I think the UCA should supply them with chips.

  6. I would hate to sound cliché and write that I'm shocked by this blog, but I am. Law enforcement officials are not paid to get hurt and seeing the word "lazy" here so many times makes me wonder, "How do these guys know someone was 'lazy' in a law enforcement event?"
    Was it lazy by default simply by using what you believe is response to resistance tool that shouldn't be allowed and therefore police are "lazy?"
    Blogs are great to espouse opinion and they are tools for expressing beliefs. However, it would be nice to espouse opinion based on facts and not conjecture or by citing the few "plane crashes" that occur either by a dynamic & fluid situation, poor training, policy violation, etc. I can cite any number of negative outcomes to prove a point but that has to be weighed against the positive outcomes -- a cost benefit analysis.
    You're missing the fact that the planes are landing safely the vast majority of the time. I will grant you that there needs to be enforcement of good training and policy. If not, the police officers are liable for Civil Rights violations and the negative perceptions will continue.
    However, there are no magic bullets in law enforcement. Using verbal language just doesn't do it all the time and responding to resistance often requires tools including empty hands, hard hands, kicks, TASER ECDs, OC spray, batons, K-9, impact weapons, and firearms.
    What do we expect our law enforcement officials who are well trained and do follow policy to do?
    They're using TASER ECDs as one of many techniques and the US court systems have stated that this is a recognized and useful law enforcement tool.
    Any tool can be misused. However, we go out of way to make misuse difficult and transparent. All of our TASER ECDs for law enforcement have a microchip that records the time, date and duration of its uses. NO OTHER law enforcement tool does this.
    Why not rail against baton strikes? Is it acceptable to use a cave man tool on a human? While it's an acceptable tool there is a better way to stop violent suspects.
    Granted you can find numerous negative stories with negative outcomes or negative perceptions, but don't leave out this technology has saved countless lives and has prevented serious injuries to thousands of suspects AND law enforcement officers.
    We have this information available on our Web site at -- so take a read there sometime.
    For the record, one recent US DOJ study (no TASER company involvement) indicated the 99.75 of 1,201 suspects hit by TASER ECDs hand NO significant injuries. The forest is there somewhere among the trees if you're open to moving beyond the negative perceptions.
    Steve Tuttle
    Vice President of Communications
    TASER International

  7. Stephen, welcome to my blog! I hope you stick around, but I kinda suspect you're a one-hit-wonder and won't be back to even read my response to your comment.

    Anyway, I read what you said, and it's logical. But I don't think the idiot cop who used one of your tasers on a six year old boy would have hit him with a night stick instead. He probably would have just grabbed the kid's hand and stopped him. Sounds like lazy, stupid, irresponsible police to me, and it wouldn't have gone down that way without your neat little innovation.

    As for your fuzzy math, you state "indicated the 99.75 of 1,201 suspects hit by TASER ECDs hand NO significant injuries." First, if I assume you meant "that" instead of "the" and "had" instead of "hand," you're still telling me that 8.3 percent were not seriously injured, which leaves me to presume that 92.7 percent were seriously injured. You're not helping your case there.

    But I don't think that's what you meant. Even though you're a big, important VP, I think you also omitted "percent" after 99.75. So that means three people were seriously injured. You may be happy with those numbers, but if any of those three were one of my kids or it were used unjustly on any of those three, it's still unacceptable if you ask me.

    Anyway, thanks for stopping by and sharing your opinion. Post a picture next time so I know better who to avoid if I ever meet you in public. Who knows what you're carrying or when or on whom you'd use it.

  8. i bet stephen carries pepper spray.