07 June 2006

Tasers for New Zealand?

In New Zealand they're debating whether or not to introduce tasers as a law enforcement tool. Personally, I'm not sold on tasers as a law enforcement tool.

It's not that I don't think they can play a valuable role in ensuring officer safety, I question the role they are being placed in. The way I believe tasers should be used are as substitutes for firearms. Now I realize that when a bank robber comes out of the bank a taser is not going to do the same job as a shotgun. Rather, it's for the confrontation where a suspect or a green warrant is standing there with a knife in the officer's only previous option would have been to use his firearm.

The problem is that I don't think this is how officers are being trained to use them. From a couple of conversations I've had, officers seem to be getting trained to use tasers in situations where previously they would have laid hands upon the individual or cap - stunned him.

Anecdotal evidence of fatalities due to the use of tasers continue to make its way around. While I'm sure there's some truth to these, I'm not sure if the death toll is as high as some articles claim. I also lack a marker to compare it against. If you tell me that 150 people over the last five years in the entire United States were killed by police officers using tasers you must give me something to compare it against. How many fatalities have there been in the use of the various types of maces? How many fatalities from the laying on of hands on other physical force? Give me something to compare.

In any case, it appears that tasers have the potential of being deadly force for certain individuals. This leads to the conclusion that they should not be a step up from or substitution for physical contact, they should be a step down from the clearly deadly force of a firearm.

Mind you, I've yet to have a case where an officer has actually used a taser. It's something that still slowly making its way into the system and I suspect the anecdotal evidence of multiple deaths may be causing some officers to be cautious in the use of this item. After all nobody wants to be sued because he jumped the gun and used a taser at a typical traffic stop when there is no call for it.

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