ALMOST overlooked in the excitement (ahem) of the recent election, the old city council approved the Takoma Park Police Department’s request to fully arm themselves with Tasers.
Tasers have been controversial lately, and Amnesty International has condemned their use pending further study. Nevertheless the council and Mayor Porter unanimously approved the police department’s request to purchase with grant money 16 new Tasers, which will enable all future patrols to be armed with them. The force currently has two Tasers in use.
All but wearing “Support Your Local Police” stickers on their foreheads, the councilmembers eagerly endorsed the purchase at the Oct. 29th session, though not all of them, particularly Doug Barry, had the same uses in mind for the weapons as the police did. Barry spoke of how Tasers were preferable to guns in meeting deadly force in situations where police officer’s lives were in danger.
The police, represented by Chief Ronald A. Ricucci and Capt. Edward Coursey, were more interested in Tasers as a “pain compliance” device. In other words, Dear Reader, if you run afoul of the law and the officer thinks you are not properly obeying him or her, you could have an electrifying experience.
One need only search the term “Taser” on YouTube to find scores of examples of the device in action – almost always in the hands of police officers determined to totally dominate a civilian. They can be seen used in situations such as: a person not moving or obeying fast enough for the officer’s liking, a person disputing a speeding ticket, a young man refusing to remove his hat at a city council
meeting (not in Takoma Park), and especially in cases where a civilian questions the officer’s authority.
Of course, that wouldn’t be a problem here. We don’t have any people in Takoma Park who question authority, do we?
Takoma Park police representatives repeatedly said that the intended use of their Tasers was for “pain compliance” in situations where a “secondary weapon” such as a baton or pepper spray were called for. Hopefully they will have a higher standard for when to use a Taser than those many US police forces Amnesty International says are “using Tasers as a routine force option to subdue noncompliant or disturbed individuals who are not a serious risk. Such cases included children as young as nine. Such usage appears to contravene international standards which require that police should use force only when “strictly necessary”, in proportion to the threat posed.”
Assuring the council and the one citizen who raised concerns about potential misuse, the police said that officers are well trained in the proper use of Tasers. Councilmember (at the time, now mayor) Bruce Williams noted that as a hedge against abuse the city administrator gets a report every time a Taser is used. The police and council noted that the alternative methods of compliance – pepper-spray, batons, and dogs, have their own controversies, risks, and potential abuses. The police feel that Tasers measure up better than the alternatives.
However, Amnesty International states, “The degree of tolerable risk involving Tasers, as with all weapons and restraint devices, must be weighed against the threat posed. It is self-evident that Tasers are less injurious than firearms where officers are confronted with a serious threat that could escalate to deadly force. However, the vast majority of people who have died after being struck by Tasers have been unarmed men who did not pose a threat of death or serious injury when they were electro-shocked. In many cases, they did not appear to have posed any significant threat at all”.
Citing a lack of studies showing the effects of Tasering on people “ compromised by poor health, substance abuse or other factors ,” Amnesty International says that “of the more than 290 cases of individuals who died after being struck by police Tasers since 2001 suggested many of the deceased fell within potential “at-risk” categories”
My advice to you, Dear Reader, is to change that bumper sticker on your car to read “OBEY AUTHORITY!”
The Amnesty International public statement quoted here was released Oct. 2007 and is entitled, “Amnesty International releases its briefing on Tasers submitted to the US Justice Department” It can be viewed online at Amnesty International’s website.
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