Thursday, July 24, 2008

Tasers Don't Kill People, Police Kill People?

The controversy around Taser use will never abate as long as citizens keep dying shortly after having 50,000 or more volts course through their bodies courtesy of a member of the local constabulary. This statement is never more true than when the deceased is a young person.

I struggled with whether the title I chose for this post was a fair way to provoke will likely recognize the borrowing I have done from the popular slogan of the North-American gun-lobbyists. I settled on the title as appropriate, however, in large part due to this comment from the report of the RCMP Public Complaints Commissioner:

"The Taser must be in the hands of those qualified and trained, but also those who have the knowledge, experience and judgment to know in which circumstances this weapon may be most effective."

The interim report by the same Commissioner really seems to have hit what the problem is as I see it:

In an interim report, Kennedy had called on the force to restrict its use of stun guns, saying the weapons are increasingly employed to subdue those who are resistant rather than those who pose a threat.

In that report, Kennedy criticized the RCMP for failing to manage the use of Tasers and allowing usage to grow over the past six years to include cases where people were "clearly non-combative."

It seems to me that all of the debate and analysis about use of force protocol and status of the weapon as lethal versus non-lethal will be completely meaningless...unless the public can trust that Tasers are being used sagaciously and not in the manner of a small child on Christmas morn' desperate to try out his or her new toy in attempt to make a suspect ape a "fish out of water".

So, here's the question I think is left begging. How can we possibly trust that Tasers are properly being used by police when there are numerous ongoing inquiries into their use and safety and the RCMP Complaints Commissioner has already told us that the RCMP have been using it improperly on non-threatening people? All the while, Taser use continues as do resulting deaths.

Seriously, can we not put the electro-convulsive version of suspect control on the shelf for long enough to sort out these issues so that we can complete inquiries already in progress without killing more citizens while we wait for the reports?

Maybe this young guy in Winnipeg was sufficiently threatening police with his knife to justify lethal force with a which case one could hardly fault an officer for having erred on the side of the Taser. But how can we have any confidence in this? In my opinion policing agencies have completely failed to prove that such confidence is well-founded, and until they do, they should have to arrest people like they did before Tasers were invented.

One final bit to ponder (that I have not previously seen pointed out in the volumes of debate on this issue) as a civilian, I can lawfully purchase a 9mm handgun which is virtually identical to the ones police carry...but a Taser is a prohibited weapon that a civilian cannot lawfully possess.

Now, I know that it's hard to imagine legitimate sporting target practice with a Taser...whereas many handgun owners use them for just that...but it does seem a bit odd that I can own the lethal weapon but not the one that I'm being repeatedly told has never been proven to directly cause a person's death.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

I think that if you actually thought about your last paragraph, you might be able to see an answer... if your mind was open.

A "lethal" gun can be used for a legitimate purpose... that is, target practice. But for what legitimate purpose can a Taser be used for?

Outside of law enforcement circles, the only purpose for a Taser would be criminal assault. (One could make an argument for self-defense, but then, that would hold true for guns and pepper spray and tactical nuclear weapons then, wouldn't it)

In Canada, we try to limit the proliferation of weapons of all sorts, allowing only those that have a clear and reasonable use, and then only after having applied appropriate restrictions. Tasers, not having a legitimate purpose for civilians, and therefore a restricted weapon and not legal to purchase or possess.

Your 9mm beretta, while you may legally purchase it (after licensing, etc.) still is restricted in when and where you may use it, or even carry it. Try carrying it downtown, and you may find yourself facing a legal and justifiable use of force, probably lethal.

I thought Lawyers were smart?

7:26 a.m.  

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