Thursday, February 12, 2009

The Taser Controversy - Timely Update

"Man dies after Taser jolt from S.J. Police"
--San Francisco Chronicle online (SFGate) for February 12, 2009

Today the San Francisco Chronicle online reported the following incident:

A man in his 20's died after a struggle with San Jose police during which he was jolted with a Taser.  The man died in the backyard of a home in San Jose after being jolted with the stun gun. The man resisted being arrested, and the officers Tasered him following a struggle. The man lost consciousness, and died at the scene. The man's death is being investigated by the police as a possible homicide. The incident is the sixth, involving Tasers, to result in death, since officers of the San Jose police started using Tasers in 2004. Earlier fatal incidents involving Tasers have resulted in large cash settlements by the City.  

Police officers using Tasers is a recipe for tragic incidents like this.  No police officer is in a position to know before-hand, what kinds of medical conditions a suspect may have, in considering the advisability of Tasering him.  The suspect himself may not know!  Do you know how likely you would be to suffer a heart attack if Tasered?  

All my adult life, I've suffered from irregular heart beat, or what is called "cardiac arythmia."  This, like many other kinds of mild heart abnormality, is not necessarily life-threatening, provided I don't become too stressed or physically exhausted (or both).  But severe electric shock is among the most potent triggers of cardiac and neurological dysfunction.  In fact, medical science isn't very well informed along these lines, and the manufacturers of these devices certainly know that.  

Promoting Taser use among police departments--or among the general population--as a form of protection or subduing individuals, is irresponsible.  
There is a growing movement to outlaw these terrible weapons.  Write to your Congressperson or state representative about it.  We can get rid of these things if we make enough noise.      


Kirby Olson said...

Resisting arrest is a very poor idea. If you don't do that, you won't get Taser'd. I don't see why people are such criminals.

We could see the Taser as a kind of portable electric chair.

But I'm fine with the application of the electric chair.

I still wonder about the advisability of returning to bludgeoning people with a nightstick instead of Tasering them.

I'd need to see statistics that were not produced by a criminal group.

Curtis Faville said...

Kirb: I'm not in favor of people resisting arrest, either, but the fact is that hundreds of thousands of people do every year. Policemen being the way they are (impatient, often pissed-off, tired, underpaid and underappreciated), escalations of disputes and altercations frequently occur. This stuff has been going on for hundreds of years. As a general rule, police work is dangerous, but not as a result of physical disputes with suspects or others; it's usually the result of traffic accidents or other "non-perp" causes.

I had an epiphany yesterday about tools for restraining people:

How about a net that could be "loaded" into a kind of launching device? You could shoot a suspect with it, and he'd be immediately tangled up in mass of stretchy webbing. Then he could be easily wrestled down and handcuffed. It could even have sticky stuff on it! (Wife and I are laughing at this point!)

Yuch! "Hey, Mr. Smith, you better calm down, now, or we'll shoot you with the sticky web!"

"Oh, God, no! Anything but that! Alright, alright, relax, everything's fine."

Norman Lathers said...

It's beyond me how the police will find themselves guilty of homicide. They're probably just going through the motions, until someone with higher ethical standards (such as Bernie Ebbers) looks into it.

Kirby Olson said...

I don't think we have had a police force in the sense we think of it now for very long. Maybe 150 years tops.

I should google this, and get the history.

I think more about saving the wear and tear on the police themselves.

I don't care about the criminals.

Anyone who resists arrest is not worth my caring about. Why do you care about criminals, Curtis?

It is against the law to resist arrest.

The only good thing about criminals is that they keep the police in business. The police are legitimate, and that's a good thing. Criminals are not, but without the criminal, you would not have the police, or the law courts, or the wardens, or all the other legitimate people.

Perhaps we could even say that the criminal is the mainstay of the economy.

So perhaps we should treat them very gently, and not just club them with baseball bats.

I think they had constables in Shakespeare's day. But the police force as we now know it must come in about Poe's time.

Not sure of the history of this, or the history of the means used to subdue criminals.

Tasers seem better than maces, or better than baseball bats, bazookas, or whatever.

The best thing would be a conscience, but I guess that's how criminals get to be what they are in the first place: no conscience.

Can a company get busy and build a conscience that we could put into the minds of criminals?

Curtis Faville said...

Not everyone whom police stop has committed a crime. Search and seizure and unreasonable arrest are big issues for many people, Kirby. We need to limit the power of authority to conduct legally justified and legitimate actions on the part of police, detectives, agencies, etc. There is no built-in presumption that the general public's guilt can be used, a priori, to justify stopping people, searching them, searching their cars and houses, detaining them, etc. Habeas corpus, etc. If you take away those protections, you're living in a fascist state. People can be "disappeared" without recourse. That's how it was in Saddam's Iraq, for crying out loud.

If I'm walking along at night, and a police car pulls up and tells me to get down on the ground and put my hands behind my back, without any kind of provocation, I need the protection of the law. Otherwise, I'm totally at risk.

Arresting people may seem perfectly logical in many situations, but that's a matter of interpretation. People can be legitimately angry, frustrated, drunk, confused, or mentally unstable, but that doesn't justify putting their lives at risk by jolting them with an industrial dose of electricity.

Kirby Olson said...

Maybe everybody could be Tasered at lower voltage levels, tested in kindergarten, to weed out those who could be killed by the machine.

Then those who could be killed could wear a yellow star (for example) to indicate that they are not good to Taser.

And that they should be billyclubbed instead.

Curtis Faville said...


Be serious.

How do you like my net device idea?

Kirby Olson said...

The net device idea is hilarious.

Let's think up Rube Goldberg devices for stopping criminals without breaking a fingernail, or causing so much as a papercut.

How about encasing them in insta-plastic (breathing problem).

How about turning them into pillars of salt (problems turning them back into flash).

Teleporting them directly into jail cell (technology too hard for the feeble-minded scientists of our day).

You have to have a lot of patience if you're a police officer.

Yesterday a squirrel froze on the Main St. sidewalk here. It was strange. It was still alive I think, but it couldn't move. They should still be hibernating.

The police came and removed it I was told, but I wasn't told how they removed it. Did the officer use his hand? A net? A bag?

In the bush, they often use tranquilizer darts on big game like rhinos. The drug goes in and slows the animal down so they can they safely administer pharmaceuticals.

Any time you're stopping someone who doesn't want to be stopped you risk hurting them I think, or being hurt in the process.

Injections from a hundred yards are fairly safe with rhinos since their skin is pretty tough. But what if you did that to a hemophiliac here in the cities of the states and they bled to death?

Your net idea is fairly neat, but I imagine it would take a lot of training. Is it similar to a lasso?

Maybe instead of rough treatment you could offer them ice cream, lots of it, if they would only step into the paddy wagon to eat it. Once in there, you could lock the door, and let them out again at the station.

This might not work twice.

I don't know! This is a really hard problem!