Probably the most compelling argument to date that the use of Tasers should be banned is the fact that several large police departments — in Las Vegas, Phoenix and Scottsdale, Ariz. — have now prohibited testing them on fellow officers during training exercises. This is due to the proliferation of severe injuries and subsequent lawsuits by injured officers.
According to the most recent report issued on Tasers by the ACLU of Northern California, in August 2005 alone officers in five states filed lawsuits against the device’s manufacturer, Taser International.
Amazingly, the same police departments that now ban the use of Tasers on their own rank and file continue to use them on their citizenry — sometimes with fatal consequences.
Consider the conditions under which the Tasers’ shocks are administered to officers as compared with their use on the public. As part of the Taser training process it is routine for officers in most departments to undergo a one-second blast from the weapon to better understand its debilitating impact before using it on a citizen.
This blast is administered in a tightly controlled setting, with the officer standing on a mat while being spotted by two fellow officers.
Despite these precautions, the Taser proved too dangerous to continue to use on officers. No such precautions are taken when a citizen is the one being zapped.
The Mountain View Police Department, as well as others in the Bay Area, continues to subject its officers to these Taser demonstrations, although the practice is now voluntary. It is easy to imagine that, once an officer is injured during one of these training sessions, Mountain View will quickly join those other departments in banning their use on fellow officers.
On the streets, when a citizen is shot with a Taser, the blast lasts for five seconds instead of one, and can be administered multiple times. In the last year alone we have seen 15 people in Northern California die after being shot with Tasers, many of them after receiving multiple five-second blasts.
Of course the officers have no idea what vulnerabilities a citizen may have to the weapons before they inflict their 50,000-volt blast.
Too often we are seeing individuals hit by Tasers for the most innocuous of offenses before other truly non-lethal methods — like crisis intervention or conflict resolution — are even considered.
It is time we act responsibly as a community and ban Tasers in Mountain View, or at a minimum demand a moratorium on their use until adequate independent testing has been conducted to determine whether this weapon can ever be used in a truly safe and humane fashion.
Given that there have been more than 160 deaths by Tasers in the United States since 1999, nearly half of them in the last two years, once the testing has been completed an outright ban on Tasers is likely to be the only reasonable solution — absent an unbending rule that they only be used as an alternative to deadly force.
But given the fact that police are trained to use a gun when the suspect has a gun or a knife in close proximity, and given that Tasers only incapacitate their target 75 percent of the time, the likelihood that Tasers will ever be used as an alternative to deadly force is zero. If Tasers are not safe to use on police in tightly controlled circumstances, then certainly they’re not safe to use on our citizens on the streets of Mountain View.
This piece originally appeared in the Mt View Voice