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more on Tazer at UCLA
From: David Farber <dave () farber net>
Date: Fri, 17 Nov 2006 16:57:02 -0500

Begin forwarded message:

From: "Aleecia M. McDonald" <aleecia () aleecia com>
Date: November 17, 2006 3:03:52 PM EST
To: dave () farber net
Subject: Re: [IP] more on Tazer at UCLA

Professor Farber,

A follow up for IP if you would like.

The response from UCLA[1] that Mr. Appelbaum was good enough to send includes the following text:

A Taser is used to incapacitate subjects who are resistant by discharging an electronic current into the subject in one of two methods: via two wired probes that are deployed from the Taser, or in a "drive stun" capacity by touching the subject with the Taser. In this incident, the student was not shot with a Taser; rather officers used the "drive stun" capability.

This suggests that the UCLA police department may still not have a clear understanding of the possible effects of Tasers, or the issues other police forces have faced. Too frequently people have the mistaken belief that Tasers are "only pain," with entirely temporary and reversible effects. In contrast, 30 seconds with Google turned up a recent article[2] from the Palm Beach Post:

Even the company that makes the stun gun, Taser International, urges caution about use of the weapon in the "drive-stun" mode and with repeated shocks — uses that The Post survey found have been frequent on the streets of Palm Beach County and the Treasure Coast. [...]

Officers also can remove the prong cartridge and discharge the weapon directly against a person's body in the "drive-stun" mode to subdue combative arrestees with a searing jolt of pain. The Taser training manual advises that because it is not incapacitating, this mode can lead to "prolonged struggles" and that "it is in these types of scenarios that officers are often facing accusations of excessive force."

A few weeks ago an unarmed 17-year-old died after being Tasered twice [3]. Amnesty International estimates Tasers have caused 120 deaths. The Palm Beach Post article addresses concerns about long-term health effects, which are not yet understood.

When an officer can use a Taser instead of a gun, the Taser is very likely a better choice. However, when officers fail to appreciate that Tasers are potentially lethal force with long-term health effects, they are more likely to use Tasers in frustration or as punishment for failure to comply. This seems like the sort of issue that could readily be addressed by improved officer training and clear policies.

In addition to UCLA, it might be worth contacting our own universities or alma matas for clarification of their policies.


[1] http://newsroom.ucla.edu/page.asp?RelNum=7513
[2] http://www.palmbeachpost.com/localnews/content/local_news/epaper/ 2005/05/30/m1a_taser_0530.html [3] http://www.stltoday.com/stltoday/news/stories.nsf/metroeast/story/ 58B70B2BA83E5B20862572180013F159?OpenDocument

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