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by Peter Moskos

March 22, 2016

Taser Use

Great story in the Baltimore Sun about taser use:
• Nearly 60 percent of those hit by Tasers in Maryland were described by police as "non-compliant and non-threatening," according to data from 2012 when the state began collecting data through 2014.

• In one out of every 10 incidents, police discharged the weapon for longer than 15 seconds — a duration that exceeds recommendations from Taser International, the U.S. Department of Justice and policing experts. The data downloaded directly from the devices often shows more activations than officers document in police reports.

• Officers fired the weapons at the chest in 119 incidents in 2014 — even though Taser has warned since 2009 that doing so could cause cardiac arrest.
And why?

From 02:20 of the video in the story:
The Taser is a great tool because if you go out on a call or something... and he's fighting... before, if you hit him was a asp [baton] he's going to get a lot of contusion marks and maybe break some bones. A Taser is not going to do that.
See contusions look bad. But Tasers sometimes kill. To me the issue has always been whether the Taser is used for a threat (OK) or compliance (bad).


Thorn said...

I don't think it's just a matter of looks (though that's part of it). Not only can hitting someone with a baton cause serious injury or death, it requires the officer to be much closer than a taser and requires more upper body strength and technique to work effectively. A small and weaker officer can use a taser to disable a stronger suspect where they would never be able to do so with a baton.

Force is dangerous, even when no weapons are used (eg Eric Garner). I suspect an encounter ended quickly with a taser is safer in most cases than a drawn out physical fight.

But, sure, baton use has been stigmatized to the point where it's probably underused. People can't imagine a cop actually punching someone anymore.

Andy D said...

When we first got Tasers in my agency in 2010, Taser’s own training as well as many agency UOF policies had the TASER as low on the Continuum as pepper spray. Their example videos showed officers using it for multiple cycles. In the last few years, due to more recent case law and perceived dangers, the Taser has risen up the Continuum to the point that it now rests just below deadly force. The vast majority of Taser uses that I see on video are for simple non-compliance, and do not comply with Taser’s own guidelines, which state that the suspect should be actively resisting or be an active threat. I think most officers actually using the Taser are using it for compliance because they are scared to go hands-on with someone, either because they lack the skills to do it properly, or because they fear the repercussions. Peter, you know very well how updated BPD specifically keeps their training and their policies.

Andy D said...

This article sums up how confusing Use of Force law on Tasers is right now I think. This most recent 4th Circuit Ruling (which covers Maryland) was only issued in January 2016.