October 6, 2011
The Saginaw News
The deaths of two people in police custody in Michigan late last month is enough to convince us that police agencies need far more strict policies on the use of Tasers to electrically stun suspects into submission.
The most recent was in Mount Pleasant, where a 35-year-old man from East Orange, N.J., was found dead Sept. 24 in the Isabella County Jail about an hour after his arrival following a scuffle with police and repeated use of a Taser on him.
An autopsy has been completed, and the results expected in the coming weeks.
What’s not clear in this case, nor in the death of a 27-year-old Warren man on Sept. 17 after Warren police used a Taser on him, is whether the weapon caused these deaths, contributed to them or was not a factor.
State police are investigating in the Mount Pleasant case; Warren police also called for an outside agency to probe the incident there.
What is clear is that Tasers are getting a bad reputation in connection with the deaths of a very few of the many unruly people they are used to subdue.
One shot with the electric probes of a Taser, and most people fall to the ground and convulse helplessly. In most cases, the suspects recover quickly after the electric jolt ends.
That’s the scenario that police likely expect when they substitute a “less lethal” Taser for a firearm, a police baton or pepper spray.
But one death after use of a Taser is one too many, much less two in Michigan on consecutive weekends.
The Taser absolutely is a weapon that is less lethal than a police firearm.
But its use should be reserved as a substitute for situations that call for police to respond with deadly force. If police guidelines call for an officer to use a firearm, then a Taser should be considered an acceptable alternative.
Otherwise, Tasers should remain holstered.
Their use in less-than-life-or-death situations gives police a black eye in the public mind, especially when more than one officer is present.
In the Mount Pleasant case, three police officers and several bar bouncers wrestled with the New Jersey man in an effort to get handcuffs on him. The bouncers called police after the man was accused of grabbing women in the bar.
What ensued outside the bar was an evidently mighty struggle to get the man under control, according to newspaper reports in the Mount Pleasant Morning Sun.
A Taser was used several times on the man, who continued to struggle with police even after he got to the county jail.
Police departments have begun using the devices to save both the public and officers from injury. Police don’t have to physically mix it up with unruly suspects, and people fighting or fleeing police don’t face the harm they might from bullets or police batons.
Yet, we see Tasers used by police on suspects who may present little threat. In Burton late last month, an officer fired one at a woman fleeing a bank after trying to pass a bad check. The device’s barbs didn’t penetrate her jacket, and she surrendered without a struggle when police caught up with her.
Tasers in Michigan have been used on a 15-year-old Bay City teen who died, on an 80-year-old Isabella County man and to arrest a naked man running around outside in February.
Those are the kinds of cases that cry out for better policies for police use of the electrical stun devices.
As is any death of a person in the hours following use of a Taser.
Even years after their introduction in the police arsenal, and after various studies, the jury is still out on why some people have died after they were shocked with a Taser.
That unknown alone is reason enough to limit the weapon’s use to life-or-death situations.
If a scenario calls for the use of deadly force, let a Taser be the “safer” option available to officers.
Otherwise, keep them holstered.
WELCOME to TRUTH ... not TASERS
Thursday, October 06, 2011
October 6, 2011