Taser Happy – by “Charles H”

The Taser has quickly become the weapon of choice for officers.  A Taser is considered a non-lethal force that assists officers in handling dangerous individuals.  A Taser fires two electrodes that are sharp and penetrate through clothing into the skin.  Once piercing the skin, the probes release electricity into the body creating a painful disruption between the brain and the muscles.   This disruption incapacitates the individual while the electricity is flowing through the body, but when the current stops; it allows the individual to fully function.  While the use of the Taser has been of extreme benefit to the safety of police officers, there are advancing issues of officer abuse.  While the Taser is considered non-lethal force it is a very serious method of subduing an individual. While the use of the Taser is necessary in several cases and has even reduced lethal measures, the precedent is quickly being set on what is allowed when it comes to tasering an individual.

The fourth amendment raises a question of the probable cause needed to seize an individual using a Taser. At what point is an officer allowed to use a Taser in order to seize an individual?  While a taser is not legally considered lethal force, it’s result is violent and painful, and the media has made it more controversial in that it should be considered lethal force with regard to the violent self harm once tasered and the electrical effects to the heart which can result in death.  Regardless, specific guidelines are necessary for officers on what situations the Taser should be allowed.

Several cases are great examples of situations where a Taser was not necessary, for example, Brian v. McPherson.  Brian, a young man was having a hard day, having already been pulled over for a speeding ticket. Once again, Brian is pulled over, this time for not wearing his seat belt by Officer McPherson. After complying with the officer’s requests and pulling over, being very agitated with himself, Brian slams the steering wheel while swearing and crying because of the days misfortune.  Brian steps out of his car while the officer was 25 feet or so away and begins yelling at himself and hitting his thighs in self -disgust.  It is at this moment that the officer felt threatened and shot Brian with his Taser.  Brian falls to the hard pavement and sustains injuries. This illustrates a case that an officer used poor judgment in the use of taser.  Brian was simply releasing frustration and was not acting aggressive or combative in regard to the Officer.  To the officers defense, this scene does appear a little out of the ordinary for pulling someone over for a seat belt violation, but the use of a Taser while the individual is 20 plus feet away with hard pavement beneath him, and not approaching the officer is indisputably not the right thing to do.  The courts confirmed that Officer McPherson did not have a threatening issue to use a taser.

This is reminiscent of an incident that made national news when a young man in Utah was tasered for not complying with an officer’s instructions.  His offense? He refused to sign a speeding ticket.  While, he was not complying with the officer unlike the previous case, he did not appear to be a serious threat to the officer.  The Officer used unnecessary force, by opinion.  Check out the link to the clip.  Was their misconduct by the officer? Was it necessary?

Precedence setting issues, as well as training, are in evolution of a relatively new police equipment.  Cases like Brian’s will bring deterrence for issues of misconduct and is necessary when it comes to using a taser.  The Taser is a painful weapon that can be used to save lives, but guidelines and further discussion are needed to define unnecessary use. Most likely with the use of Tasers, assaults on police officers are down. Injuries to those being apprehended are mostly likely on decrease as well. This is a tool for cooperation and when an officer is faced with dilemmas of using his gun, baton or taser the later is best suited and provides utility to protect with the absence of misconduct.

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