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Monday, October 13, 2008

Price in public opinion could outweigh good that tasers do bring

October 12, 2008
Mark Tonner, Special to The Province

Sgt. Mark Tonner is a Vancouver police officer whose column appears in The Province biweekly. His opinions aren't necessarily those of the city's police department or board. Mark may be contacted at marcuspt@shaw.ca.

This week in blue comes with sparks. I'll lead off with Taser equipment, which is spending so much time on the front-burner I'm beginning to think we should give our e-guns back.

The price in public opinion may have begun to outweigh the good they bring. I've seen them save lives, and I know of rescues-by-Taser, but it doesn't seem to matter.

The hundreds of people brought under control without the otherwise-necessary scraps aren't lining up to say thanks. Most fancy they've been abused, and should have been given a pass on whatever violence they invented.

We're said to be afraid to get wrinkles in our shirts, to be looking for easy wins.

Before deciding that fighting is what police are paid to do, it's worth pondering what a wrinkled uniform shirt means. Watching UFC matches does not qualify one as a fight expert. There are no referees or rules on the pavement. Whatever you thought you knew about control holds and measured response evaporates once you go live.

It's not that there is no point in learning techniques, it's just that things get crazy almost every time. Even when the person you're arresting is smaller than you, their decision to resist means you'll very likely have to hurt them. Try it sometime, if you're curious. Actually, better not. Even in play, controlling someone who doesn't want to be controlled leads to unpredictable flailing, swollen eyes and sailing teeth.

What I'm edging up to is that fighting with the police means losing. There may be a moment or two of glory, but you can't be allowed to win. We'll keep bringing uniforms until you're down and bound for jail.

Don't get me wrong. You won't be beaten once you're down, and you'll be treated like a human being in custody. It's just that trading of blows hurts.

Deaths in incidents involving Taser use make for stories so sad, there is no way to discuss cost-benefit ratios without sounding like a monster. The discussion isn't monstrous, and being zapped is arguably better than fighting to a loss, but the point is becoming moot.

It matters not that a person may be covered in blood and running for a gun. We're cursed with every volt.

When it comes to less-lethal methods, with Tasers gone, we'd be left with pepper spray, batons and bodily force. No one likes any of those, and I doubt there would be any less griping. Yet the nationwide uproar over conducted-energy weapon use would quiet down, and that would be nice.

It's not so much that I'm tired of listening to it. Public confidence in law enforcement may not be so easily swayed, but it's like we're running for election every day. I'd like to see police turn the corner, for media to sense enough support among the populace to let up on the offensive.

I'll close with a preamble to the disclaimer beneath. Taser deployment is not my decision to make, and I'm not sure what I'd decide if it were. This is merely a series of thoughts from someone on the inside. Tell me if I'm striking a chord.


See Excited-Delirium's illuminating thoughts on what Sgt. Tonner has written here. I couldn't have said it any better.


Anonymous said...

Everyone's favourite stun gun manufacturer Taser has unveiled it's latest loving piece of "non lethal" technology, The Taser Shockwave.

The new weapon is significantly different to the Tasers currently used by police in that it has six different electrified charges and is designed to target crowds rather than individuals.

The cartridges are tethered by 25-foot wires, which can be fired from a distance of up to 100 meters in a 20-degree arc. The "probes" on the end of the cartridges can pierce through clothing and skin, emitting 50,000 volts of electricity in the process.

"Full area coverage is provided to instantaneously incapacitate multiple personnel within that region" Taser explains.
Multiple Shockwave units can be stacked together (like building blocks) either horizontally or vertically in order to extend area coverage or vertically to allow for multiple salvo engagements." The product description states.

The weapons can also be vehicle mounted or "daisy chained" according to Taser. Clearly it is anticipated that these things will be used on sizable crowds, meaning an increased likelihood of indiscriminate targeting.
The Shockwave isn't the only new development on Taser's books either. The Extended-Range Electronic Projectile (XREP) is touted as the first electric shock weapon that can be fired from a normal gun, in this case a 12-gauge shotgun. It delivers a 20-second shock, compared with the default setting five-second shock of a traditional taser X26.

"To maximize incapacitation, the XREP http://www.taser.com/PRODUCTS/LAW/Pages/XREP.aspx
engine incorporates a microprocessor controlled optimal electrode selection technology. Twenty times per second, the XREP engine checks for the optimal electrode connection to maximize the contact spread and achieve greatest incapacitation." Taser states.
Both the Taser Shockwave and the XREP are scheduled to go into full production by the end of this year.

Taser has been the subject of much controversy and outrage. One year ago the UN's Committee Against Torture issued a statement on the TaserX26, which read: "The use of TaserX26 weapons, provoking extreme pain, constituted a form of torture, and that in certain cases it could also cause death, as shown by several reliable studies and by certain cases that had happened after practical use."

We still await more loving developments from Taser including the much anticipated Taser saucer.

Anonymous said...

So Canada will just shoot people now. Great place to live. Sounds just like Russia.

Anonymous said...

To kill another person you will have to answer to God, there is better laws about taking the gun out of the Holster, But the stun kills far too many just we are not made enough aware. :(