Let me begin by apologizing for the recent dormancy of this website. I have been very busy dealing with my caseload. I would now like to reinvigorate the site by commencing a series of articles about how technology is altering the criminal justice system.
Let us start with Tasers. Taser is a registered trademark of Taser International, Inc. The device commonly referred to as a Taser is a hand held device that delivers a pulsed electrical current. The current delivered by the Taser sort of short circuits the electrical current that normally passes between the brain and the body’s muscles.
A Taser is to be distinguished from a stun gun. A stun gun delivers an electrical charge that burns the flesh and causes pain. A Taser is painless. Also, to be effective, the stun gun must come in direct contact with the victim. The stun gun has positive and negative terminals. Current passes between the terminals. To administer the current, a portion of the victim’s body must be in contact with the two terminals. To the contrary, a Taser projects wires several feet. The terminals of the wires strike the victim, causing the current to be administered. To my knowledge, police departments do not deploy stun guns.
Police use Tasers when dealing with violent and uncooperative individuals. When confronted with an unruly suspect, the police officer will remove the Taser from his or her utility belt, point the Taser at the suspect, and activate the Taser. Wires are projected outward from the device. The terminals of the wires strike the suspect, administering the electrical current thereby interfering with the electrical current passing from the brain to the muscles. The suspect is loses muscle control and generally falls to the ground. He is incapacitated for a few seconds, enabling the police officer to restrain the victim, usually by applying handcuffs. Usually, the suspect recovers his senses in a few seconds and almost always there is no long term effects.
A Taser should not be used is situations where the life of the officer or of another is in danger. In that case, deadly force is justified and, in those circumstances, it may be too late to use a Taser. The ideal use of a Taser is the situation where a physically smaller officer is confronted with a larger suspect who does not want to be restrained. Consider the example of a petite female officer, let’s say, 5’1″ and about 110 pounds. She has graduated the police academy, so is fully versed in defensive tactics. However, she is 5’1″ and weighs only 110 pounds. She is on patrol, alone. A victim reports an attempted sexual assault and points out the perpetrator leaving the scene on foot. The perp is 6’4″ tall and weighs approximately 300 pounds.
The officer calls for backup and is advised that the nearest fellow officer is 20 minutes away. The officer orders the suspect to halt. He refuses. She gives chase. Placing her hand on the suspect, she orders him to remain. He says, “I don’t think so, little lady”. He brushes her hand aside, pushes her to the ground, and continues to leave the scene.
The officer cannot let this dangerous felon escape. Yet, without a Taser, short of shooting him, she cannot force him to stay put. So, she deploys her Taser. The big man falls to the ground, is handcuffed, and is placed under arrest. When the backup finally arrives, he is transported to the police station etc.
There are dangers attendant to Tazing someone. Any time the natural actions of the human body are artificially altered, there is a danger that the alteration may be permanent or at least long lasting enough to cause permanent injury. Then, too, there is a danger that the suspect may be injured in the uncontrolled fall.
However, the dangers present in deploying a Taser are far less than the alternatives available to the officer. Consider the example noted above. If the officer did not have a Taser, the options available to her would be to shoot the suspect or to strike him with her baton, two courses of action likely to cause death or serious bodily injury.
With this background in mind, let us consider the Michael Brown shooting in Ferguson, MO and the death of Eric Garner in Staten Island, NY. Where were the Tasers? Arguably, Officer Darren Wilson did not have time to deploy a Taser once Michael Brown reached for the officer’s gun. Also, at that point, the officer’s life was in danger and he was, in my opinion, justified in using deadly force. The grand jury obviously concurred in this analysis.
But, what about the Staten Island case? Eric Garner, all 400 pounds of him, was no threat to the officers. However, the officers were entitled to place him under arrest, putting aside for the moment the idiocy of criminalizing the sale of a single cigarette. It was the perfect situation for a Taser. The big man does not want to be restrained. Hit the big guy with the electrons and watch him fall to the ground like a 400 pound sack of Marlboros. Then, cuff him and call for a police crane to transport him to the station.
Some police departments do not deploy Tasers. Some officers do not like to use Tasers. I do not know why Eric Garner was not Tazed. Had Eric Garner been Tazed, he most likely would still be alive. Let’s hear it for the Tasers.