Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Are Tasers Torture Tools or Legitimate Law Enforcement?

In 2007, the United Nations Committee against torture declared that the Taser most often used by police causes "so much pain that use of it 'constituted a form of torture.'"

However, proponents of the use of Tasers as an alternative to more deadly force claim that "99.75% of the time suspects have no significant injury as a result of the device being used."

About a year ago, I was involved in a pro bono case involving a man in my neighborhood with severe mental problems. Eyewitnesses told me that Deputy Sheriffs from the Davis County Sheriffs Office pulled this man over for a minor traffic violation. The man was confused and scared and overwhelmed. Instead of pulling over, he drove the short distance to his father's house looking for help. There the Sheriffs, believing that he was noncompliant, ordered him out of his car.

Their lights were flashing, they were yelling, and there were a number of deputies surrounding him. The young man's father was there and repeatedly asked the deputies to let him talk to his son so that he could explain what was happening. They refused and eventually tased the man.

A little bit over a year ago, I mentioned this incident to a Sheriff's Deputy and asked him what he thought. He responded that the public doesn't realize that law enforcement believes that Tasers are very safe and that they are low on the "escalation scale" because they pose little risk to the suspect and keep the officer out of danger because he doesn't have to be close to the suspect.

I understand that law enforcement officers have difficult, dangerous jobs and that they are looking for ways to keep us and themselves safer. But I wonder if they have fully considered the risks involved in electrocuting people. Tragic deaths have been associated with Taser use. Should Tasers be used as often as they are?

Do we know enough about the risks involved in Taser incidents? According to Professor Jared Strote, an ER doctor and professor at the University of Washington, we don't know enough about Tasers. "There has been very little good research done, and by good I mean conclusive, about the potential health effects of Tasers."

In two separate incidents, Utah Highway Patrol Officers have been accused of using their tasers in non-violent situations. Once, during a DUI when a driver refused to submit to tests without speaking to a lawyer, and once when a different driver refused to sign a traffic ticket.

Like Amnesty International, I am concerned that "Tasers are being used as tools of routine force rather than as weapons of last resort."

What are your thoughts? Are police using Tasers correctly? Are they instruments of torture that should never be used? Or are they good tools that are sometimes used incorrectly by poorly trained officers?

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