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Monday, May 19, 2008

EDITORIAL: taser tales - there's a viable alternative to controversial weapon

May 19, 2008

Editorial in the Edmonton Sun


"To a man with a hammer, everything looks like a nail." -- Mark Twain

To someone with a Taser, everyone looks like Frankenstein's monster, in need of a jolt.

Taser proponents state the Taser is capable of temporarily incapacitating a person while often causing little, if any, bodily harm. Great concept. But in reality, people do die after a Taser has been used on them.

It does not take a degree in electrical engineering to understand that 50,000 volts of electricity cannot be good for the human body. If it were, jumping on electric fences would be a form of exercise. In any event, there have been dozens of deaths in which the victim died shortly after coming into contact with a Taser.

A website called taser.org claims that consumer models have "more stopping power than a .357 Magnum" and the .357 is a pretty powerful weapon, as we all know from Clint Eastwood. Supporters argue that Tasers are overwhelmingly safe in practice. So are airplanes, but they do crash on occasion, even when the pilot does nothing wrong. We haven't banned airplanes because, despite the risk, we trust pilots and ground crews to allow a plane to fly only in minimally safe conditions. Pilots are trained. Where is the training for the proper use of the Taser? With the Taser, experience has already shown that the likelihood of abuse is too high.

Fare dodgers

In Canada there have been instances where Tasers have been grievously misused. Vancouver's transit police have reportedly used the Taser at least four times against would-be fare dodgers (better known as "Operation A Fare to Remember").

Tasers should be used only in situations that call for at least a Taser, and no others. It is inevitable that the authorities will abuse them and use them in situations when it is inappropriate to do so.

I don't trust any police officer, let alone a transit cop, to exercise the necessary restraint before using the Taser. What makes a Taser so dangerous isn't the Taser itself, but the belief that it is harmless.

When someone believes they can use a weapon without causing harm, that person will abuse the power to use that weapon.

It brings to mind Stanley Milgram's famous psychology experiment in which test subjects were willing to impose increasingly severe electric shocks on a counterpart claiming to have a heart condition.

I am convinced that in most situations where a Taser would be considered appropriate, the police could probably do just as well without it.

In London, a city with a population three times as big as Toronto, patrol officers (bobbies) still carry nothing more than a baton and pepper spray. Before anyone is zapped, minimally the police should determine if the zappee has a pacemaker.

As a technological Neanderthal, I can think of a far safer and cheaper alternative to the Taser: The lasso.


Robert Dziekanski died in Vancouver airport after police used a Taser on him. I have no doubt in my mind that if he had instead flown to Calgary during the Stampede, he could have easily have been detained by a cowboy with a rope and lasso and thus would be alive today.

If a cowboy riding on a fast-moving horse can lasso running cattle with incredible precision, why wouldn't it have worked in Vancouver? Sometimes old technology is still the best.

I am opposed to police using Tasers. If the police could actually be trusted to use Tasers with restraint, I'd be shocked.

See other recent editorials.

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