For years, Tasers and stun guns have been used by law enforcement as a way to apprehend individuals without using excessive violence. Though they are used by more than 15,000 agencies across the U.S., these tools do not come without controversy.
Because they are safer, Tasers invite use
The major benefit of a Taser is that it is not as violent or extreme as a gun. However, the weapon can still inflict considerable damage when used. According to a report from the National Institute of Justice, the most common problems attributed to Tasers are bruises, strains and abrasions. These injuries are still preferable to those caused by batons, and the use of conducted energy devices can reduce injuries to suspects and officers alike.
Throughout the years, organizations such as Amnesty International and the American Civil Liberties Union have expressed concern over the use of Tasers. Although the device can be employed as an alternative to handguns or other weapons, it may also be used as a crutch in certain situations when no type of physical altercation is necessary.
While the majority of agencies forbid the use of Tasers against an individual who is nonviolent, about 60 percent allow the devices to be employed when a suspect tenses or pulls away while being handcuffed, according to the NIJ report. A significant number of agencies also prohibit the use of Tasers against visibly pregnant women, handcuffed suspects, people on elevated areas, drivers of motor vehicles and the elderly. These restrictions vary greatly from one department to the next.
Agencies need stricter rules and enhanced training
The New York Civil Liberties Union conducted a study on the use of Tasers within the state, analyzing 851 instances. About 60 percent of the incidents did not meet the recommended criteria to justify use of the weapon. Another 15 percent were identified as inappropriate use, including when the victim was only verbally noncompliant or already restrained.
“Our analysis shows that police officers are using Tasers in inappropriate, irresponsible and downright deadly manner,” said Donna Lieberman, the executive director of the NYCLU. “This disturbing pattern of misuse and abuse endangers lives. Law enforcement agencies that choose to use Tasers must adopt clear and effective policies governing their use, and they must do so without delay.”
The NYCLU recommended that law enforcement agencies undergo Taser training programs. Although no federal laws exist for these programs, organizations like the Department of Justice and the Police Executive Research Forum publish guidelines regarding Taser use. Complying with these recommendations may be the first step toward safety.
Tasers can be used safely, with limits
A handful of states outlaw use of Tasers, and only a few cities around the country subject citizens to any restrictions. In Iowa, an investigative report brought to light many inconsistencies using the device and revealed strong support of state legislation to require training for officers carrying Tasers.
Much of the burden for training currently falls to the manufacturers of Tasers. As the Des Moines Register notes, however, these companies focus on operation and do not cover the ethics of use. Should Iowa’s bill be passed, officers will have to complete technical and ethical training under the guidance of the Iowa Law Enforcement Academy.
“We make sure they have complete training on all the liabilities, plus the medical part of them,” Denny Hagenson, sheriff of Iowa’s Hamilton County, told The Messenger.
With studies such as the NYCLU’s research shedding light on Taser misuse, more states may follow Iowa’s lead. The Arizona chapter of the ACLU, for example, revealed a lack of clear and consistent guidelines for police officers, placing both first responders and suspects in dangerous situations.
Tasers are an important and effective tool for law enforcement, and expanded training can ensure they remain a part of an officer’s arsenal. By educating officers on the technical and ethical nature of Tasers, agencies ensure that everyone involved in an emergency is treated fairly and personal safety is prioritized.
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