November 10, 2008
Used properly, Tasers are a great ally to a law-enforcement officer. They allow police to subdue a suspect without having to shoot him or whack his head with a club.
But in the hands of an overzealous officer, a Taser becomes a dangerous companion piece to fighting crime.
Using them is often a subjective call, made in the frenzy of trying to apprehend someone.
Bad stuff can happen.
In 2005, a prisoner was zapped twice by Orlando police while he was strapped to a gurney in Florida Hospital.
Last March, a rambunctious 11-year-old girl was shocked by a deputy sheriff working as a resource officer at Moss Park Middle School.
And there's the infamous cry of "Don't tase me, bro!" from Andrew Meyer, who got stunned after getting unruly during a forum with Sen. John Kerry at the University of Florida in September 2007.
None of these people should ever have felt that jolt of electricity.
That's why it's important for the Legislature to beef up a law that regulates the use of stun guns in Florida.
A bill passed in 2006 set some basic parameters. They allow an officer to use a Taser on someone who "has the apparent ability to physically threaten the officer or others," or is "preparing or attempting to flee or escape."
It also requires a law-enforcement officer to pass a basic skills course that's set at a minimum of four hours.
But that's like somebody going on vacation in the Caribbean, putting on some scuba gear for two hours in the hotel pool, and thinking they're certified to dive 60 feet into the deep blue sea.
Tasers aren't toys. They can deliver anywhere from 1,200 to 5,000 volts that can be deadly.
It has happened in Central Florida, unfortunately, where these stun guns have been implicated in five deaths. The Justice Department is rightfully urging tighter controls on the use of the devices by the Orange County Sheriff's Office.
Those federal recommendations should be state policy as well: Suspects who are restrained should not be stunned. Police should be more careful before they shock suspects who are under the influence of drugs because of possible physical complications.
We'd also urge them never to use a stun gun on a child.
State Sen. Stephen Wise, who pushed the statewide controls now in place, says he is amenable to revisiting the bill to see if more criteria can be set for Taser use.
Let's be clear on this: Tasers are a great tool for officers. It's always best to stun instead of shoot.
There's no question that local law-enforcement officers are already making better decisions. Orange County deputies have used stun guns in 273 instances this year, according to the most recent data. That reflects a steady decline during the past three years from the 409 incidents documented in 2005. Likewise, Taser incidents are down from 337 in 2005 to 208 in the city of Orlando.
Using stun guns is not the problem. It's using them wisely that matters most. Setting clearer parameters will encourage that to happen.
It's not just for the protection of criminal suspects. It's to protect officers trying to maintain law and order.
WELCOME to TRUTH ... not TASERS
Monday, November 10, 2008
November 10, 2008