Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Tasering wild people

My local paper had a letter to the editor today taking the police to task for tasering an individual who subsequently died. It's a complicated story which the letter-writer simplified into something like oatmeal without raisins. A taser is one of those hand-held jobs that shoots barbs into you and then jolts you with about 750,000 volts (or something in there) so that you don't want to fight any more.
The letter writer was, fairly predictably, upset that the brutal cops had used the taser on a guy who had committed no crime except to get naked and go crazy. Some points:
1) The taser was developed as a humane way to control out-of-control people. It was seen as a much better alternative to beating the skull in with a truncheon or shooting holes in people. It serves another purpose; it keeps the cops from being kicked, punched, scratched, bitten, spit upon (or worse), bled on, or stabbed as they arrest someone totally out of control.
2) The taser has been remarkably effective in doing what it was designed to do. It has saved countless lives (both perps and cops) in tense standoffs.
3) The notion of "humane" is a moving target. That is, the definition changes, as it has for instance, with "cruel and unusual punishment." Apparently, "humane" now means, "With no adverse affects at all on the recipient," instead of "non-lethal and with no lasting harm."
So, when the letter writer blithely sanctions the police, said writer (who has almost certainly never been in a situation where a taser is necessary), is ignoring the most important aspect of the tasering -- the context in which it takes place. The writer is saying, "You must preserve law and order, and you gotta take the bad guys in, but if anybody is going to get hurt, it should be you."
If I ever go amok, I hope that the police have the kindness to taser me instead of simply shooting me out of hand.


Jacqui Binford-Bell said...

There was a man who fell into the spring in the fall. He did not die in the spring. He died in the fall.

Did the man die of the tasering or was he on his way to dying when tasered - i.e. overdose of PCP, massive brain malfunction, a knife wielded by his wife sticking out his back, or falling on the sword he was threatening the police with, etc.

Inquiring minds want to know. Did the writer of said letter to the editor know.

On both your houses said...

The writer was quite knowledgable about this incident, but refused to even consider that the man might be dangerous. I believe the tasered individual had a history of mental illness. On the other hand, the police quite possibly knew only that the man was ignoring all commands and seemed out of control. I think the thing that bothers me most is that we expect superhuman coolness, daring, and sacrifice from the police in situations where they are operating with very little data and have to make split-second decisions.

Becky Stauffer said...

I think you hit the problem on the head, Ron. Cops are just people like us, though they are trained to respond appropriately under stress. Tasering seems to be such a far greater alternative than shooting, when that's possible. Do they know why this man died from tasering? In response to Jacqui, I remember from the new story he was physically healthy.

It is a tragic situation for the family, of course. And I do think your suggestion is good, Ron, that manufacturers need to be more specific about how to use the device most effectively and safely.

But the fact is, most people do live after being tased. Not so much with being shot.