The Federal Way Mirror recently wrote an article on tasers which you can see here
Police tasers simply can not seem to stay of the news. Perhaps this is because they are the tool of choice in police cases where emotions, drugs, or violent mental illness have gotten the better of a suspect, and these cases are incendiary and confusing by their nature.
Today the New York Police Department took responsibility for using a taser incorrectly on a mentally ill man who was standing on a ledge, causing the man to fall to his death when he lost control of his muscles. (This appears to be an isolated case of an officer failing to use common sense, since New York Police handled 82,000 similar cases last year with no notable reports.)
Closer to home, the Tukwila Police Department has been answering public concerns about their use of tasers in a case which has made it into the federal court system.
I remember when we introduced tasers in Renton a dozen years ago. Council watched as an officer was shot by the taser in the council chambers, and the tough cop crumpled and fell onto a mattress that was positioned to break his fall. At that time, Then chief Al Wallis made a promise that if we agreed to fund the tasers for all our officers, he promised to make sure they were all properly trained on when and where to use them…and each officer that carried a taser would agree to be tased first, to see how it felt.
Our accredited police department made good on their training promise, and I can’t remember a single incident that has come to councils attention alleging an improper use of a taser in all these years. A few years ago one of our sergeant explained to me that we treat the taser as a higher level of force than some departments do, which may explain why there are fewer uses of them, and fewer complaints.
With several fresh taser cases in mind, I phoned our own Chief Kevin Milosovich for a refresher on our taser policy.
The chief explained to me that when we introduced tasers, we recognized three levels of force in our department.
Level 1, the lowest, was the use of officers presence, voice commands, or light guiding touch.
Level 2, Arm holds, wrestling down to ground, hitting, tasers
level 3, Lethal force, firearms
In this system, Renton police treated tasers as a Level 2 device. But many other departments considered tasers a Level 1 device. Hence, our officers used them less than many other departments.
Our police have since moved from a system of distinct force levels to a continuum scale which responds to suspects behavior with appropriate response. But the taser is still toward the middle of this continuum… it is not the tactic of choice when just voice commands, reason, negotiation, or guiding will work safely.
In a severe conflict, tasers have many advantages for the police, and they are better for violent suspects than most of the alternatives. The taser can be fired from a 30 foot distance, which means the police can take down a suspect without putting themselves in harms way. This obviously benefits the police, but it is also an advantage to an out-of-control suspect; if they can be prevented from harming an officer they can be spared extra years in a criminal sentence.
Tasers are also better than nightsticks for avoiding long-term injury. Almost always, a suspect will recover from a taser on their own in minutes, where a hit from a nightstick can require medical attention and leaves scars or bruises. And of course tasers are obviously better than a gun when lethal force can be avoided; no police officer ever wants to shoot a gun if they can avoid it.
Incidentally, the title for this blog, “Don’t tase me Bro” (which came from an incident a year ago during a John Kerry Speech)was determined to be the most memorable quote of 2007 according to the “Yale Book of Quotations”
Video of the incident became a viral video on youtube, and inspired several songs and amateur video remixes (like the one below).