Tasers

IEEE Spectrum has a three-part article on Tasers and how they work. Interesting reading, although be aware that two of the authors have connections to Taser manufacturers -- so you should expect biased treatment of the issues.

Posted on December 20, 2007 at 6:03 AM • 54 Comments

Comments

JohannesDecember 20, 2007 6:24 AM

I tend to think that unlike the article states the reason for "public distrust of tasers" is that they're thought to be safe by those using them so the inhibition threshold is lowered considerably. That is, of course, part of the selling point for the guns, but combined with a (healthy) general distrust of law enforcement the prospect is worrisome.

piotrDecember 20, 2007 7:28 AM

The authors (except the one who wrote introduction) seem to miss one point. Public outcry was not raised because someone screamed in pain or even died after being tased. It's because the offenders were not violent. Most people agree that using tasers in such situation is unaccaptable. Tasing an armed individual who directly assaults the officers is, on the other hand, completely fine. Even if it means a slight risk of death - in most countries it would be legal to use a firearm anyway. The huge grey area is in between.

In Poland in last 20 years we had a few cases of people being seriously harmed (not killed though) by rubber bullets. Every time a debate followed if the situation was violent enough to justify the use of such painful and potentialy dangerous weapon. In my opinion tasers fall into the same category: just below firearms, not along batons and pepper sprays. However, due to several factors mentioned before (psychology plus no visible harm) tasers are much more prone to be abused. As such, they should be regulated more strictly. I'd opt for video camera + confetti models AND proper procedures (e.g. investigation if there's the slightest possibility of abuse).

bobDecember 20, 2007 7:29 AM

So a person who is serious about committing a crime needs to wear a "Faraday suit" which covers the torso and extremities with a conductive mesh which would short the barbs to each other providing a less resistive path than the body.

Meanwhile normal people expressing constitutionally protected (although possibly controversial) political opinions at public gatherings are still at risk.

Have there been any "Taser duels" where a perp had one as well and he and the cop fire them at each other at the same time (yet)?

wiredogDecember 20, 2007 7:35 AM

@bob
Haven't heard of any taser duels, but I'm sure that, if it's happened (and I wouldn't be surprised) the video will be on YouTube.

Heck, guys being guys, I'd expect to see it on SpikeTV.

As an aside, it's interesting to come here right after reading Dave Barry's blog...

PaeniteoDecember 20, 2007 7:59 AM

@bob: "So a person who is serious about committing a crime needs to wear a "Faraday suit" which covers the torso and extremities with a conductive mesh which would short the barbs to each other providing a less resistive path than the body."

I don't have the source at hand, but I remember reading something about "Taser-proof" clothing a while ago. Basically, it worked like the concept you described.

camiloDecember 20, 2007 8:32 AM

I agree that Tasers are far better for law enforcement than fire guns. You can stop a dangerous person with less risk for innocents and without hurting the suspect himself.

However, it looks like police officers feel think that being "non lethal" makes Tasers "risk free". So there should be an external factor to rise the threshold again. If you make them really responsible for miss using the weapon, you might make them more concerned about using it.

Security ActorDecember 20, 2007 9:36 AM

@bob

I think people who are "serious" about committing (presumably serious) crime are more likely to find themselves on the business end of a firearm rather than a taser. I also believe body armor designed to protect against bullets also works against taser barbs...

IsaacDecember 20, 2007 9:45 AM

@bob
The primary legitimate target of tasers, as I understand it, is people who are altered enough by drugs or psychosis that they are a danger to others and normal techniques for subduing them won't work. Such people are unlikely to buy a "Faraday suit" for the occasion.

John WDecember 20, 2007 9:52 AM

A police offer friends told me, after the "don't taze me bro" incident at the Kerry engagement that most people think that police merely outnumbering someone means they should be able to control them. Problem is, when someone absolutely will not stop fighting and struggling, it is very difficult to contain them without hurting them. When several officers are holding them and they struggle with all their might, they may very well cause their own arms to break or joints to become dislocated. Tasing can get someone into cuffs or under control without risking broken bones. Not that cops should be quick to use tasers, but it can be argued that, when you start running out of options, it can be better than simply trying to overpower someone.

Of course, that is a cops position, which is no doubt biased. But he's also a decent man, so I give him a measure of credibility.

Brandioch ConnerDecember 20, 2007 10:17 AM

@John W
"A police offer friends told me, after the "don't taze me bro" incident at the Kerry engagement that most people think that police merely outnumbering someone means they should be able to control them."

Yes, they should. How did they handle the situation BEFORE Tasers?

"Problem is, when someone absolutely will not stop fighting and struggling, it is very difficult to contain them without hurting them."

If it's one on one, yes.

If it's 3 trained police officers against one, no.

"When several officers are holding them and they struggle with all their might, they may very well cause their own arms to break or joints to become dislocated."

Yes, they might.

Or it might be that there's a little bit of that old "police brutality" there.

Think about yourself. What, specifically, would have to be going on for you to fight against 3 cops so hard that you dislocate your own shoulder?

"Tasing can get someone into cuffs or under control without risking broken bones."

Yep. And I'm sure that that fool at the Kerry event was going to break his own bones fighting.

"Not that cops should be quick to use tasers, but it can be argued that, when you start running out of options, it can be better than simply trying to overpower someone."

..."running out of options"....

Instead we're seeing Tasers being the FIRST and PREFERRED option.

If someone does not IMMEDIATELY comply with vocal commands ... whip out the Taser.

Personally, I think that some broken bones are BETTER than a population held in check by Tasers.

bearDecember 20, 2007 10:33 AM

Just because the police are told the tasers are less lethal than a gun, I think they feel they can use them more liberaly. I can see this breeding a feeling they can shoot first and ask questions later rather than trying to talk to the person to subdue them.

A shame they are geting so abused when in the right circumstances they could be a beneficial tool for law enforcement.

John WDecember 20, 2007 10:34 AM

@Brandioch

Someone always has to cop an attitute instead of simply conserving

I was just relaying what a police officer said.

And given your lightweight rebuttal that "Think about yourself. What, specifically, would have to be going on for you to fight against 3 cops so hard that you dislocate your own shoulder?"

Of course, the first course of action should be the blame the police. After all, the chances the person may be high, on drugs, or just simply violent or crazy are nill, right?

Tasers should not be the first choice. We are in agreement. But bones being broken as better? Puh-lease.

Of course, you're probably one of those arm chair quarterbacks who will say they should have tased him if he gets hurt, but would have said it was unnecessary if they tased him. Frankly, my police officer friend has more credibility than you in my book.

AndrewDecember 20, 2007 11:44 AM

I know more about this than I'm allowed to claim here (NDA). While I'm not a peace officer, I have been Tased repeatedly. This is a life-saving device.

I am amazed at what a lot of people speculate as to "what police officers think" who are not police officers, have not spoken to police officers and base their knowledge of the Taser on media articles and hearsay.

Taser International uses a "train the trainer" system to instruct peace officers on the proper employment of the Taser less lethal weapon. Presumably, peace agencies are familiar with the statutory and case law in their own states, territories, etc. and will fit the weapon into their own use-of-force doctrines.

When operated, the Taser records each time of activation and duration of firing; this can be downloaded by agencies and used as chain of evidence. Anti-felon ID tags are also discharged when a cartridge is deployed. Agencies have the option of attaching a video camera ("TaserCAM").

Note from a security perspective that the _agency_ decides when Tasers are properly employed, and how to investigate noncompliance. Then, officers mostly comply with policy. Mostly.

Some agencies have an internal culture that encourages cowardice, brutality, "test-a-lying" and falsification of police reports. I won't name names here. Not surprisingly, these agencies tend to have very broad use of force policies which are poorly enforced. Evidence tends to disappear and witnesses (if any) are intimidated rather than interviewed.

This isn't Taser's fault, any more than it is Glock's fault when peace officers shoot a suspect under questionable circumstances.

The concern about Taser has all the hallmarks of a "moral panic," with as little validity as usual.

Public attention should ALWAYS be paid to how police use their powers for good or ill. Ethical cops have no problem with this. "Who shall guard the guardians?" The courts, juries and the general public, of course.

>> although be aware that two of the authors have connections to Taser manufacturers -- so you should expect biased treatment of the issues.

By this standard we need to throw out most of the peer-reviewed articles in medicine, especially pharmacology. Certainly all of the "gun control" articles in the public health literature.

Don't Tase the science, bro!

derfDecember 20, 2007 11:48 AM

I fail to understand why the prevailing media theme makes waterboarding of known terrorists under government interrogation unacceptable while electro-shock torture for ordinary citizens during routine police procedures is perfectly fine. Can you imagine the hue and cry if the interrogators were using tasers?

AndrewDecember 20, 2007 11:59 AM

> What, specifically, would have to be going on for you to fight against 3 cops so hard that you dislocate your own shoulder?

Let's see. Why would that be?

I'm drunk (70% of arrestees). I'm high (too?) on meth, cocaine, etc. I just robbed a liquor store, burgled a home, mugged a little old lady, etc. I'm mentally ill and I think the cops are trying to kill me. My buddies and/or girlfriend are watching and I don't want to look like a pansy. I've got a bad case of "I don't give a &@#!." I'm a gangbanger and I don't like cops. I want to be on YouTube. I was punked last time I was in jail and I don't want it to happen again. I'm a combat vet and I'm having a flashback. I'm a professional litigant and I want to make a lot of money. My foreign culture / life experience leads me to believe that the cops are trying to murder me. I'm panicked and don't know what's going on. Did I mention that maybe I don't like cops? I'm a loser, baby, so why don't you kill me? I'm freaking out due to a massive adrenalin rush and/or teenage testosterone.

Any of these would do. Usually it's more than one. Reasonable people generally aren't getting arrested. If they are, they know to just take the arrest calmly and fight it out later in court.

Not to mention how easy it is to dislocate a shoulder. Defensive tactics classes are taught on mats. Defensive tactics are USED on concrete, asphalt, gravel, etc.

Do you really expect a career police officer to risk an unnecessary injury to arrest a resisting suspect? As a taxpayer, I object -- it's bad enough what we have to pay people to be willing to be police, I'd like to avoid paying medical bills and disability on top of that, too.

Police KNOW what the consequences of unnecessary force are. Paperwork, litigation, civil settlements are one result. Avoidable injuries, disability and even death are another. Most police will try once, twice and three times to get a suspect to cooperate without violence.

Once that's failed, do you expect the police to use just a little bit of ineffective force, and ramp up slowly -- or use enough force to end the threat quickly for everyone's safety, including the suspect's?

Brandioch ConnerDecember 20, 2007 12:09 PM

@John W
"Someone always has to cop an attitute instead of simply conserving

I was just relaying what a police officer said."

My opinion is different than your's. If you cannot accept that and have to refer to it as "cop an attitute", that is your problem.

"Of course, the first course of action should be the blame the police. After all, the chances the person may be high, on drugs, or just simply violent or crazy are nill, right?"

Pay attention. Was the kid at the Kerry meeting "high, on drugs, or just simply violent or crazy"?

No, he was not.

It seems that the facts contradict you.

"Tasers should not be the first choice. We are in agreement. But bones being broken as better? Puh-lease."

You have your opinion (even though the facts contradict you) and I have my opinion.

Broken bones are visible evidence.

Taser shocks are not.

I'd choose broken bones over Taser shocks. It's easier to record. And it provides a public record.

"Of course, you're probably one of those arm chair quarterbacks who will say they should have tased him if he gets hurt, but would have said it was unnecessary if they tased him. Frankly, my police officer friend has more credibility than you in my book."

Didn't I just say that I'd support broken bones over Taser shocks?

Yet that bit seems to have eluded you in your rush to personal attacks.

Tasers should ONLY be used instead of SHOOTING someone. If it isn't a "deadly force" situation, then Tasers are NOT an option.

You can throw all the hypothetical situations that you want. But the FACTS contradict you. I'll stick with the FACTS.

PeterDecember 20, 2007 12:15 PM

From the article:
>and one might apply the same faulty logic to argue against “killer cuffs,��?...

Almost always, people dieing with cuffs on die due to positional asphyxia. Hands cuffed behind their backs, and forced into a face down position. The risks of positional asphyxia are greatly increased when one is overweight. One may as well tie a plastic bag over the subject's head and close it off.
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Positional_asphyxia

AndrewDecember 20, 2007 12:19 PM

@Brandioch

If you have the facts, you don't NEED an opinion.

Taser shocks certainly are visible evidence. In addition to the data stamp inside the weapon, drive stun leaves marks on the skin, and darts leave small puncture wounds which are distinctive.

As for "Don't Tase me, bro!" I agree that the police were too quick to go to force. (I've watched several videos of the incident a number of times.) They should have asked him to leave. Once he resisted arrest, however, he lost the legal high ground and committed a fairly serious crime. A shame, really, because the loss of civil liberties occurred when the police went hands-on.

Your unsupported, naive belief that "Tasers should only be used instead of shooting someone" is contrary to several hundred years of criminal law and common law. Police can and will use reasonable force to effect arrests and overcome resistance. Be thankful that we're no longer in the days of nightstick, blackjack and revolver.

I respectfully suggest that you go to your local police agency and request to go on a "ride along." This is a routine request that will teach you a LOT about police work and give you a good reason to meet peace officers under less stressful circumstances than being given a deserved traffic citation.

RSaundersDecember 20, 2007 12:27 PM

@derf: That's true, when you have someone in custody you are MORE responsible for their wellbeing than when they are on their own. It's a reason that it might make sense to turn some folks loose.

The characteristic of the Taser that causes most of this controversy is that it is obviously painful. It's not the Star Trek phaser-on-stun as the makers seek to imbue it. While it may be generally non-lethal, when police are seen using it as though it is "harmless" there are problems. There's a huge difference between non-lethal and harmless.

Before Tasers, the police used other tactics on unruly folks. Choke holds and police dogs come to mind. I'm sure the "Don't tase me, bro" guy would have been choked in the days before Tasers. Sure, a few folks were killed, so the two techniques may be tactically comparable. The Taser's clear advantages of officer safety, speed, and stand-back range are probably the reason we don't see offenders choked on camera often.

The question we need to consider is "How much order do we require?". Is it necessary for every political speech to be free of hecklers? Is it really a police problem that some dude wants to yell during a Kerry speech? I don't see it as a problem that requires police intervention. When, as discussed here (http://www.schneier.com/blog/archives/2007/11/more_war_on_the.html), we have police using a Taser on an unconscious person things have gone way too far. While I prefer peace and quite during a speech, it is not a sufficiently serious problem to warrant police control "at all costs".

As we've discussed before, the current police climate places far too little blame on officers that do things that turn out to be horribly stupid. This climate, not the humans that serve in our law enforcement agencies, leads to over-escalation in many situations. The Taser is often one, calling the bomb squad is another (particularly in Boston). We need to hold police agencies to task for their mistakes. Starting with Tasers would be a fine place to start.

BhimaDecember 20, 2007 12:37 PM

"Do you really expect a career police officer to risk an unnecessary injury to arrest a resisting suspect"

Andrew, we've seen people tazered who were not physically resisting, in fact we've seen people killed with tazers who were not resisting.

As a CITIZEN this is unacceptable to me. I know that there is police training on how to deal with these issues with harming or being harmed. So yes I do expect those things from a police officer, otherwise they need to put down the badge and the gun and go into aluminum siding sales.

Kadin2048December 20, 2007 12:39 PM

From what I've seen, tasers seem to be used not in place of firearms, but in place of batons. This doesn't seem like a bad replacement to me -- you can kill someone with a baton quite easily by accident, or give them permanent brain damage, or maim them quite severely.

Personally I'd much rather be tased than hit with a baton or a Maglite.

bkDecember 20, 2007 12:56 PM

One thing I'll never understand: When you have four or five cops trying to subdue someone, do you know what happens? The pull against each other. This gives each cop the assumption that the person is struggling, when they're just being pulled from the opposite side.

More often than not, the guy is just trying to pull his arms in, it's a natural reaction when assailed by multiple people. Going limp is extremely painful. But you have a cop on each side trying to pull those limbs out, against each other. Each cop assumes that the suspect is still trying to resist.

Tasers are the new method of pain compliance for police. Back in the 60's, it was pepper spray. I remember seeing video of police applying pepper spray directly into the eyes on protesters who had chained themselves together or to something else. The protester wasn't a threat, the cops were just using pain to attempt to convince the protesters to obey. These days, it's much quicker and cleaner to zap them with a taser repeatedly.

While pain compliance is a nice clinical term, there's another word for it: Torture.

I have no problems with tasering someone who brandishes a weapon of any kind. But they're being used on people who merely do not comply, and that's wrong.

Brandioch ConnerDecember 20, 2007 1:02 PM

@Andrew
"Once he resisted arrest, however, he lost the legal high ground and committed a fairly serious crime."

How had he "resisted arrest"?

And how did that necessitate the use of torture?

"Your unsupported, naive belief that "Tasers should only be used instead of shooting someone" is contrary to several hundred years of criminal law and common law."

I didn't know that Tasers had been around for "several hundred years".

Fascinating what you learn around here.

"Police can and will use reasonable force to effect arrests and overcome resistance."

Shall I refer you to any of the recent cases where the victim was NOT physically resisting?

Oh, you said "resistance", not "physical resistance".

Like I said, I'd choose broken bones over instant compliance with any verbal order issued by a cop.

"This is a routine request that will teach you a LOT about police work and give you a good reason to meet peace officers under less stressful circumstances than being given a deserved traffic citation."

And yet you presume to assign to me an ignorance of "police work".

Why do you have so much trouble addressing the issue as it stands?

I have the facts.

There are videos of people who are NOT a physical threat to the cops who ARE being "tazed" by the cops.

Those videos support my position and contradict your's.

Try focusing on the facts instead of your need to presume that I do not know the facts. Okay?

anonymous canuckDecember 20, 2007 1:11 PM

There's been rather a lot of play recently in Canada about the correct use of Tasers prompted because a man died after being Tased at Vancouver (or Victoria) airport. If I recall the articles correctly, the guy was agitated and didn't speak English.

The incident caught on video and posted on the net and shown on the news. It certainly looked like they weren't properly used in that case.

The incident has raised a lot of valid questions and sparked a review. It seems a lot of people who get forcefully arrested die, tased or not. That may be the positional asphyxia thing. Hopefully a balance will be found between proper and improper use of this tool.

When I look at some of the comments and try and put myself in the shoes of someone on the receiving end. I'm pretty sure I could recognize a gun or baton under stress, yet I doubt I'd recognize a taser. That recognition just might make me change my behavior. Lack of it could get me zapped. I wonder what fraction of people who get tased might this make a difference for?

Security ActorDecember 20, 2007 1:30 PM

Maybe the problem is in the use of force doctrines that many police departments use. The notion that a Taser can be used not only in situations where the officer feels personally threatened, or in defense of innocents but also in situations where the officer is trying to protect the subject from injuries they may suffer in during the arrest process is troubling... Police should not be able to use the excuse that they did it for the good of the subject, that is too easily abused.

Also, these weapons are often used against the young and stupid or the old and senile to avoid the trouble of having to communicate/intimidate them differently.

What we need to look at when we evaluate any use of force is what alternative did the officer have... Force should always be used as a last resort. Unfortunately, the non-lethal nature of these weapons often leads them to be used to expedite the arrest process in situations where the alternative is frequently to contain the situation and talk the subject into surrendering. The incident in Florida at the Kerry speech is a prime example of the Taser being used to expedite the arrest and silence the subject rather than to effect the arrest and protect the safety of others. What would have been the arresting officer's course of action had the Taser not been available? Likely, the subject would have continued walking under his own power out of the auditorium, albeit yelling the whole way. The fact that campus police were not trained well enough to use alternative techniques is the real issue, not the actions of the cops who did what they were trained to do.

We often hesitate to second guess our protectors, and often we should. Its too easy to sit in a nice safe chair and rationally debate the actions of a person who in the heat of the moment is expected to always put the safety of others above his/her own. I can only bring myself to second guess a peace officer's (or a soldier's) actions in the most extreme circumstances. But what we must constantly question are the protocols that they operate under and balance them against the laws that protect our liberty. Those decisions are presumably made by cooler heads and somewhere cooler heads determined that these weapons can be used more liberally than other forms of coercive force. Policies and training should be modified to reflect the fact that this weapon is prone to abuse and that its acceptable use should be subject to the same standards as other forms of force.

Sorry for the dissertation...

AndrewDecember 20, 2007 4:07 PM

> How had he "resisted arrest"?

A police officer told him to stop and laid hands on him. He did not stop and evaded the officer's grasp. That's resisting arrest.

> And how did that necessitate the use of torture?

It's not torture. According to US law and Black's Law Dictionary, torture is the infliction of pain to obtain information. Know your terms.

I have been Tasered. Being Tasered hurts, but so does being pepper sprayed, placed in a wrist lock or arm-bar control hold, or for that matter, struck with a baton or shot.

> I didn't know that Tasers had been around for "several hundred years".

Police have. This is hardly the first time that the use of force by government agents has been considered. In English common law at one time, for example, a person could lawfully attempt to evade arrest so long as physical contact had not yet been made. Once touched, the person had to surrender or then face additional charges.

There is a rich and terrible history regarding how much force the government is allowed to use to control a person. We are re-visiting this history in ugly ways today, which is why this discussion is so important.

When you equate Tasers to torture, you imply that waterboarding and stress positions are OK.

> Like I said, I'd choose broken bones over instant compliance with any verbal order issued by a cop.

If I were your health insurance carrier, I'd cancel your coverage.

Instant compliance with a (lawful) verbal order from a peace officer is the LAW. If you don't like it, call your legislator, petition for the law to be changed, but when you get your bones broken, don't come complaining.

California Penal Code

"Resisting, Delaying, or Obstructing Officer"

"148. (a) (1) Every person who willfully resists, delays, or obstructs any public officer, peace officer, or an emergency medical technician, as defined in Division 2.5 (commencing with Section 1797) of the Health and Safety Code, in the discharge or attempt to discharge any duty of his or her office or employment, when no other punishment is prescribed, shall be punished by a fine not exceeding one thousand dollars ($1,000), or by imprisonment in a county jail not to exceed one year, or by both that fine and imprisonment."

California Criminal Jury Instructions

"2656. Resisting Peace Officer"

"Someone commits an act willfully when he or she does it willingly or on purpose. It is not required that he or she intend to break the law, hurt someone else, or gain any advantage."

"2670. Lawful Performance: Peace Officer"

"The People have the burden of proving beyond a reasonable doubt that was lawfully performing (his/her) duties as a peace officer. If the People have not met this burden, you must find the defendant not guilty of . A peace officer is not lawfully performing his or her duties if he or she is (unlawfully arresting or detaining someone/ [or] using unreasonable or excessive force when making or attempting to make an otherwise lawful arrest or detention)."

" [A peace officer may legally detain someone if [the person consents to the detention or if]: 1. Specific facts known or apparent to the officer lead him or her to suspect that the person to be detained has been, is, or is about to be involved in activity relating to crime; AND 2. A reasonable officer who knew the same facts would have the same suspicion."

"Any other detention is unlawful."

"Lawfulness of Officer’s Conduct Based on Objective Standard"

"The rule “requires that the officer’s lawful conduct be established as an objective fact; it does not establish any requirement with respect to the defendant’s mens rea.��? (People v. Jenkins (2000) 22 Cal.4th 900, 1020 [95 Cal.Rptr.2d 377, 997 P.2d 1044].) The defendant’s belief about whether the officer was or was not acting lawfully is irrelevant. (Id at p. 1021.)"

> Why do you have so much trouble addressing the issue as it stands?

Huh?

> I have the facts.

No, actually, you do not have the facts. Knowing nothing about the law, personal combat, police tactics and techniques, and the Taser device, you present your opinion that the Taser is equivalent to deadly force.

> There are videos of people who are NOT a physical threat to the cops who ARE being "tazed" by the cops.

You weren't there. You didn't read their reports. You didn't speak to the arrested party or eyewitnesses. You have no idea whether or not the people in question were a physical threat to the police, based on the information the police had at the time. You only know what the video showed during that snapshot of time.

Since you appear to have no training in law enforcement, defensive tactics, skilled observation and the basics of the law (and certainly correct me if this appearance is inaccurate) . . . your ability to understand what you see on the video is very much lacking.

Further, "for example" is not proof. Just because you have one or two or even a hundred cases where a Taser was improperly used, does not mean that the Taser should only be used when justified as deadly force.

So? I've got a picture in my history book of a Vietnamese guerrilla being executed by a so-called police chief. Does that mean revolvers should not be carried by police?

> Those videos support my position and contradict your's.

How so?

> Try focusing on the facts instead of your need to presume that I do not know the facts. Okay?

No, because you're wrong on the facts and your inability to recognize this is blocking you from further consideration of the subject.

If you want to make a case that Tasers should be more heavily regulated, do so. If you feel that Tasers are being over-used by police, you may be surprised to discover that I agree with you. But when you say that:

> Tasers should ONLY be used instead of SHOOTING someone. If it isn't a "deadly force" situation, then Tasers are NOT an option.

You are wrong on the facts. Hundreds of agencies carry Tasers. Agencies have been sued for NOT employing Tasers when they were called for, in preference to a firearm. Agencies have even been sued for failure to HAVE Tasers where they could have been employed as an alternative to deadly force.

So Tasers are an option and your denial on the subject does not serve you well.

AndrewDecember 20, 2007 4:26 PM

Bhima says:

> Andrew, we've seen people tazered who were not physically resisting,

See my comments above. The totality of the circumstances must be considered.

If I am confronting a peace officer in a dark alley, told to "Freeze! Hands up!" and my hand dips into my waistband, am I 'physically resisting?' I am very likely to be SHOT in such a case.

Or, to pick a famous Taser case, if I am on the cell phone with someone telling them where I am, while a peace officer has commanded me repeatedly to put down the phone and get out of the car (to arrest me for driving with a suspended license), am I resisting? Even though I've created a situation where my contact (and X number of buddies) could come to my 'rescue' and attack the officer? Even though I'm sitting in control of a weapon (the vehicle) and could have other weapons in immediate reach?

If I have my hands under my body, and a peace officer says to put my hands out, am I endangering the officer? Could I have a weapon in my hand or in my waistband? Would the officer be justified in hurting me to make me show my hands, to keep me from murdering him? ABSOLUTELY.

> in fact we've seen people killed with tazers who were not resisting.

Please cite for me a case where a person has been killed with a Taser. People have been killed from positional asphyxia, drug overdose, cardiac arrest, etc. but no death has yet to be linked to the use of a Taser.

To me, one death from positional asphyxia is too many. Where's the outcry on that issue?!?!

> As a CITIZEN this is unacceptable to me.

Good. I am not saying that people should not criticize the police for excessive Taser use, or write their legislators, or break out the video camera (from a safe distance) or file a lawsuit if they feel their rights have been violated.

Security actor says:

> "Policies and training should be modified to reflect the fact that this weapon is prone to abuse and that its acceptable use should be subject to the same standards as other forms of force.

Absolutely. Any weapon is potentially abused. Taser is more trackable than most, actually. Largely, these policies are in place. Enforcement is the issue, and this means Internal Affairs willing to crack down on fellow cops, and District Attorneys willing to file when cops commit crimes.

BK says:

>> One thing I'll never understand: When you have four or five cops trying to subdue someone, do you know what happens? The pull against each other. This gives each cop the assumption that the person is struggling, when they're just being pulled from the opposite side.

The Kerry video

> Tasers are the new method of pain compliance for police. Back in the 60's, it was pepper spray.

Yes, and it still is. Pepper spray gets used BEFORE hands-on by many agencies.

> . . . These days, it's much quicker and cleaner to zap them with a taser repeatedly.

Less decontamination with Taser (still have to remove darts). But i'll say this, having been hit with both, the Taser pain cuts off immediately. OC pain keeps going for up to 45 minutes . . .

> While pain compliance is a nice clinical term, there's another word for it: Torture.

Definitions again. Pain compliance is simply this: I am going to HURT you, without causing INJURY, until you do what you are required by law to do.

Is it better to injure people? Really. We have a commenter who seems to agree that it's better to break bones than to shoot them with electric darts.

I don't think so myself.

I agree however that pain compliance is a use of force that should always been seen as serious and requiring justification. It should never become routine, nor should we become desensitized to it.

> I have no problems with tasering someone who brandishes a weapon of any kind. But they're being used on people who merely do not comply, and that's wrong.

I feel personally that the Taser should be used freely to protect officers from a serious safety hazard, such as a noncompliant subject with potential access to weapons or who is suspected of a serious offense.

I don't like the use of Taser on what the use of force doctrine calls "passive non-compliant subjects." It feels wrong, like an unnecessary short-cut where we are hurting people for our convenience.

Thanks everyone for being patient with my long posts. As someone who actually knows something about the subject, I'm very frustrated with the pundits and Monday morning quarterbackers who have never worn a gun, never been Tased and certainly never confronted with a person looking for an opportunity to hurt them badly.

Jon SowdenDecember 20, 2007 4:34 PM

@ Andrew
"Presumably, peace agencies are familiar with the statutory and case law in their own states, territories, etc. and will fit the weapon into their own use-of-force doctrines."

This is a flawed assumption.

Here in NZ the Police have been trialling Tasers. They started off with a clear ROE, but even so during the trial they were trying to expand the scope of the ROE. Even _then_ they still managed to bollix it

http://www.stuff.co.nz/4324385a6427.html

40% of Taser presentations (incl three firings) in the trial were outside the ROE, i.e. below the authorised threat threshold. This was in the trial. The policemen carrying them for the trial are about the best trained in their use that we can expect, since "train the trainers" all but ensures declining standards over time.

I have sympathy for the police, and I think the Taser could be a great tool for them. Unfortunately they do themselves no favours with their poor record showing they can't be trusted with them.

AndrewDecember 20, 2007 4:34 PM

> I also believe body armor designed to protect against bullets also works against taser barbs...

Let people go on thinking that. :)

Jon SowdenDecember 20, 2007 4:38 PM

Addendum: the flaw in the assumption is not that "peace agencies are familiar with the statutory and case law in their own states, territories, etc. and will fit the weapon into their own use-of-force doctrines", but that the UoF doctrines will be observed.

jerzyDecember 20, 2007 8:21 PM

Taser is a bad idea and should be banned. One "accidental" death at the Vancouver Airport is one too many. The problem is - Taser is convenient and people are lazy. It is much easier to push the button then to do something constructive, like finding somebody who could communicate with the poor, confused fellow stuck for hours in the luggage area of an airport under construction; the situation was not particularly difficult, the guy was very far from dangerous, yet - he was killed with Taser, because it was convenient.

If he was killed with a gun - the officer in charge would have to answer a lot of very inconvenient questions, fill some very inconvenient forms, he could even spend a few years at a very inconvenient location, courtesy of Her Majesty Government; this is because the gun is a lethal weapon and nobody has any doubts about it - so the police will at least try to apply some judgment to the use of guns - and this judgment makes all the difference.

If the poor fellow was subdued by more traditional means - most likely he would still be alive, the unpleasant adventure long forgotten.

Taser is a problem - it is a lethal weapon, because it kills a percentage of it's victims, for some people it is actually more lethal than a gun, yet it is not seen as a lethal weapon, because it does not kill all it's victims and we do not know in advance who will die.

The police are playing Russian Roulette with our lives, because it is convenient.

Use of force should be the last resort, sometimes necessary, but employed only after all other possible solutions were tried and failed, so - it should not be made convenient for anybody - including the police.

Taser makes it easier to use force than to communicate, this is why it is being abused more frequently then not. The police officers are already armed with guns, so they do have the means to handle really dangerous situations, why do they need taser ? They don't need it - they just want it for convenience, but this is a kind of convenience the society can do without.

Also - taser shock is painful, this makes it an implement of torture - and a very convenient one. It will be also very convenient to equip the police with thumb screws, I am sure interrogations would progress swiftly and yield more incriminating evidence per hour, yet we do not equip our law enforcement with thumb screws; why ? Maybe we should ban tasers for the same reason ? Maybe it is not a matter of convenience after all ?

Brandioch ConnerDecember 20, 2007 9:41 PM

@Andrew
"A police officer told him to stop and laid hands on him. He did not stop and evaded the officer's grasp. That's resisting arrest."

And that necessitated that he be tortured?

"It's not torture. According to US law and Black's Law Dictionary, torture is the infliction of pain to obtain information. Know your terms."

I do know my terms.

It is torture.

I don't care where you dig up other definitions.

Looks like you just lost this conversation.

But just to be sure ...

I didn't know that Tasers had been around for "several hundred years".

"Police have."

Police have known that Tasers had been around for "several hundred years"?

Yeah, you go with that. Whatever justifies your opinion, eh?

NickDecember 21, 2007 12:45 AM

One of the big problems with this issue is the "availability bias" shared by all of us. We judge based on the incidents that come to our attention, regardless of how many incidents there are which are uncontroversial.

Police use a taser on someone that isn't struggling? That's news.
Police use a taser on someone with a heart condition and they die? That's news.
Police use a taser on a drugged out wacko threatening people with a knife? Ah, how boring, that's what tasers are for, why bother discussing that?

And no, one person dying from a taser isn't one too many. It's an unfortunate accident. It should be investigated just like any death resulting from police action, but passing judgment on what was and wasn't necessary without full possession of the facts requires some pretty astounding arrogance.

ReasonableDecember 21, 2007 3:02 AM

Firing a Taser at someone who refuses to get up, for example, sounds like unacceptable torture to me. Taser is painful, courts do not order punishment by pain, and police officers are not the authority to punish people for relatively passive resistance ; let the police charge them for resisting arrest for not, say, getting out of the library when ordered, and if a court so ordered, they will be punished. I do not think that 'saving a policeman 2 minutes in dealing with a crime' is cause to let policemen expose all citizenry to the thread of excessive pain, and risk.

Just to clarify my position, I don't think all torture is bad. In rare security cases where lives are at risk, I'd support waterboarding; likewise, I'd support tasing those same people to get said information. Fine. That's not the taser argument, however. People are being tased in situations that do not involve saving or protecting lives, because a police officer who unjustly tased a passive resister or a bystander does not stand to face serious consequences.

I'd like to see a civil court where an unjustly-tased person sues, and gets millions (I think about 1 million punitive damages is what I would like if I were subjected to tasing myself). But as long as the 'non-damage' aspect of pain makes this unlikely, I am uneasy with any use of tasers.

-- R

Taze the copsDecember 21, 2007 5:53 AM

I have a simple solution to the problem of overzealous cops, that would make taser use acceptable to me:

1) All taser-carrying cops must have been tased at least once in the last 12 months.
2) After using their taser, a cop cannot carry it again until they've been tased.

PatrickDecember 21, 2007 6:49 AM

I've been thinking.

I've seen several people asking about tazer proof clothing and I think I have an idea: Chain mail.

another idea would be to use some sort of conductive jell filled pack.

paulDecember 21, 2007 9:27 AM

Did anyone else who read the articles think that the models for deciding whether a taser could cause dangerous heart arrhythmias were seriously simpleminded?

John David GaltDecember 21, 2007 12:09 PM

The only real solution to excessive use of force (and other excesses such as harassment by repeated, unwarranted stops) by police is to make police accountable (to victims) for their actions. Let's strip them of their immunity to prosecution, and of their monopoly on the right to prosecute.

This does not mean police should never be allowed to do things you or I may not. It does mean that if they do, they should have to be able to convince a jury that their actions were reasonable and fair.

Jon SowdenDecember 21, 2007 4:12 PM

@Nick
"One of the big problems with this issue is the 'availability bias' shared by all of us. We judge based on the incidents that come to our attention, regardless of how many incidents there are which are uncontroversial."

That'd be true only if we didn't have the information (see my prev post) that 40% of ALL taser presentations during a trial were outside the ROE.

You can pick and choose your information source to suit your bias' if it pleases you, but don't suppose that everyone else is doing the same.

And, to put a slightly different spin on this - just what level of police brutality, unjustified killings, etc, are _you_ comfortable with?

Regards
Jon

AnonymousDecember 21, 2007 5:30 PM

@Brandioch:

"Police have known that Tasers had been around for "several hundred years"?"

I hope you're being sarcastic and not taking the blatantly wrong view of a mildly grammatically ambiguous statement as the intended one.

AndrewDecember 21, 2007 8:34 PM

Brandioch Conner says: "I do know my terms. It is torture. I don't care where you dig up other definitions."

http://www.m-w.com/dictionary/torture

Pronunciation: \ˈtȯr-chər\

Etymology: Middle French, from Old French, from Late Latin tortura, from Latin tortus, past participle of torquēre to twist; probably akin to Old High German dr�?hsil turner, Greek atraktos spindle

Date: 1540

1 a: anguish of body or mind : agony b: something that causes agony or pain 2: the infliction of intense pain (as from burning, crushing, or wounding) to punish, coerce, or afford sadistic pleasure 3: distortion or overrefinement of a meaning or an argument : straining

Meaning 1: pain does not equal agony. I've been Tased and I've been in agony. No comparison. Try it out for yourself! I feel certain that your local police agency will be happy to set you up with a demo, either formally through the public affairs office or informally in a dark alley. Taser also offers free Tasings at the trade shows they attend.

Meaning 2: police do not 'punish,' that is what the courts are for. Police are not sadists and do not enjoy hurting people.

'Intense pain to coerce,' however. Now we're getting somewhere. If a Taser ONLY hurt, that would be a good point (and a reason why most police do not carry conventional stun guns.)

Tasers don't just "hurt" people (and would be ineffective if they did). A Taser locks up a person's muscles for five seconds, and can be repeated long enough to get handcuffs on. That is the life-saving benefit of Taser over pepper spray, baton, etc.

Meaning 3: Please stop torturing us with your narrow focus on grammar over content, logic and experience.

You don't need to go on a ride-along. You need to take a vocabulary class. Of course, I need to take a grammar class, so we're even.

"Looks like you just lost this conversation."

I'll let the other readers be the judge of that.

Taze the cops says: "I have a simple solution to the problem of overzealous cops, that would make taser use acceptable to me: 1) All taser-carrying cops must have been tased at least once in the last 12 months. 2) After using their taser, a cop cannot carry it again until they've been tased."

I have no problem with this. I am perfectly willing to be Tased yearly in order to carry a Taser. I am also perfectly willing to be "remedial Tased" as necessary to save my life or the lives of others, including the suspect.

I don't think most career peace officers would share this view. They would want to know, quite reasonably, why they need to be made to suffer for doing their job and obeying the law. We don't require that police be shot in order to carry handguns, after all.

I do feel that all police officers who carry Tasers should themselves be Tased at least once. I do know that not all instructors have been Tased, although this looks really bad in court.

Many agencies do require that police who carry pepper spray be sprayed.

qcDecember 25, 2007 10:19 PM

In the European Union, there was a recall of a toy pistol. This toy had a battery-operated circuit that could deliver an electrical shock. (Very likely, the shock was for the individual who pulled the trigger.) According to the recall, the pistol's maximum peak voltage output was 1,047.6 volts, and the electrical output could come in the form of pulses. It was said that the pistol trigger could affect the discharge voltage. Supposedly, the electrical output could pose a safety hazard to certain individuals, and the actual toy did not have any warnings for users. (In the accompanying photos, the toy's packaging does appear to have warnings.)

http://ec.europa.eu/consumers/dyna/rapex/...
(Search for the "Shocking toy pistol" text.)

JarrodDecember 27, 2007 12:41 PM

I showed a forensic pathologist/medicla examiner the articles and she said that, "Kroll, is on the Taser payroll. His opinions that Tasers are harmless and have never caused or contributed to a death are worthless for this reason. I also hear from recent conference attendees that he has a habit of bad-mouthing scientists, with more credentials, who disagree with him; the corporation apparently sues anyone who does so publicly." So, there's something of a cover up going on.

LLJanuary 9, 2008 9:24 PM

I think a lot of people don't know realize how messy hands-on really is. Might a taser have been helpful in this situation?

http://www.youtube.com/watch?...

And yes, she had a knife in the above situation, but it would have been bad with or without the knife/violence. Consider the effects of having her arm pulled(possibly dislocated) or having her arms pryed out from under her with a baton.

Should police be required to wrestle with people without knowing whether they are armed when other options are available? Tasing rather than wrestling with the man might have prevented this.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=J8c9eL1ScIg

How about this situation?

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=GRb4f8mobfE

In terms of "less-lethal", force should be ranked by likelihood of death per use. Any stats saying that tasers are more likely to kill than other uses of force?

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