Taser Mania? Is the Public Becoming Public Enemy Number One?

Does it seem like there has been a rash of tasing incidents lately? Have there actually been more than usual, or is it just because the ones that occur are all finding their way onto YouTube so more people are seeing them? Are law enforcement officers being trained to treat the public in general with disdain? How much effect do the exaggerations of movies and TV shows have on the feelings of these officers toward the public?

We had a very spirited discussion in the office last week about the Utah tasing incident. I was very sure that the officer had acted wrongly--until I got the perspective from some of my co-workers. I have decided though, that I think that, although it may have still come to it, the officer acted rashly and prematurely in the use of his taser. Did he have to arrest the individual because he wouldn't sign the citation? (I don't know what the law is, so I'm just asking...) It appears (the video conversation was somewhat muffled by passing traffic) that the officer did not answer in good faith the questions of the motorist. The motorist was accompanied by his pregnant wife, so it's hard to imagine that he was dangerous. The officer made no attempt to report the unexpected behavior to dispatch. He made no attempt to explain to the motorist that signing the citation was no admission of guilt. The man had turned and walked away before he was tased--he clearly was not a danger to the officer at that point.

So why does it seem that tasers are being used so frequently these days?

Op-Ed News reported the following recently:
Bernard Kerik, [Rudy] Giuliani's [former] driver , is behind the sudden advancement of tasers. The phenominal rise of tasers is mainly due to the efforts of Rudy Giuliani. In 2001, Taser International developed its "Advanced Taser Electro-Muscular Disruption" system and became a publicly traded company ("Taser"). In 2000, Giuliani installed Kerik as the New York City police commissioner. In 2002, Kerik, a senior vice president at Giuliani Partners and CEO of Giuliani-Kerik LLC, became Taser's director.

With Kerik at the steering wheel, Taser's profits grew ten times in two years, to $68 million in 2004, up from just under $7 million in 2001. By the way, sales have been helped along by police officers who have received payments and/or stock options from Taser to serve as instructors and trainers.

In 2003, Taser received weapons orders from Homeland Security. In 2004 Bush, lobbied by Giuliani, nominated Kerik as Secretary of Homeland Security. The same year, Kerik made more than $6 million from Taser.
On the Liberty Roundtable this morning, Sam and Curt (MP3 archive) discussed their opinion that law enforcement officers are being trained to be combative with the public. I don't know if this is true, but it wouldn't surprise me considering the specific dangers that face law enforcement personnel in 2007 America. But it also wouldn't surprise me if...

The movies and TV shows that are available to us seem to have far exceeded reality, specifically regarding the frequency of crime occurrences, as well as the graphic nature of such crimes. If law enforcement officials are watching CSI, Cops, and Law and Order on a regular basis, they may begin to develop--even if subliminally--the expectation that every member of the public is a potential adversary. Which may cause them to expect to need to use their tasers more often than they otherwise would.

So what do you think? Is there a taser problem?


  1. Delicious is full of popular taser links:


    I was not surprised to see the UHP clear their own in the internal investigation conducted regarding the incident that YouTube made famous. That's why internal investigations don't work.

    Imagine a mother accusing her child of stealing five dollars. That child conducts an "internal investigation" and informs the mother that he in fact is innocent and should not be punished.


    In a larger context, I do think there are more taser incidents than ever before. Sure, the internet make it easier to spread the word when one happens, but as one who tries to follow such news, I've lately seen a much higher number of incidents related to taser use (and abuse).

    At the least, I've found a new one-liner to use the next time I'm pulled over: "Don't tase me, bro!"

  2. That's a neat picture of the new taser shotgun. Overcomes the problem of short range. Danger Room has more.

  3. But what do you think about the reality of using tasers so often. Was, for example, the UHP trooper correct to tase the motorist?

  4. Monday morning quarterbacking is easy and risk free. From my perspective, I think the officer overreacted, although, he may have technically followed department rules. I think the man needs some additional training.

    On the other hand, I'm not the guy that is out there putting his life on the line every day for a paltry salary. I'm not the guy that is having to deal with everything from run-of-the-mill traffic citations to hard crime.

    Tasers can be very useful in defusing hot situations. What methods did law enforcement people formerly use before Tasers became common, and what is the difference in effectiveness? How often did Police overstep or abuse those methods? How often do they misuse or abuse the Taser? It would be good to have answers to these questions.

    I do not think that Tasers are evil devices. People that use them need to be properly trained and managed with respect to diffusing testy situations. I certainly hope to never be on the receiving end of a Taser charge.

  5. I have a good friend who is a Police Officer. I was actually with him when we first saw the news of the UHP incident.

    I liked his perspective...

    The officer did not handle the citation part well. He should have communicated better and when the motorist refused to sign he should have noted this on the citation and left the motorist to continue. The officer fails this part of the interaction.

    Once out of the car the motorist then failed to comply with the officers demands. Instead of cooperating he became argumentative and then walked away. As he walked away, he also reached into his pocket. At this point he was lucky the officer did not have his gun drawn. The motorist loses this part of the interaction for being an idiot. Overall, both are at fault.

    On the topic of officers being trained to be combatitive with the public. I have been on a couple of ride-alongs and think I more fully understand the term Peace Officer now. Looking at the amount of crap these guys deal with, and with the level of respect and restrait they use, I am amazed that we do not have more tazer incidents. It was a good refresher as to why I am a programmer and not a cop.

  6. Me too! Computer programming is just fine with me! I have a great deal of respect for all public safety officials, because I wouldn't be very good at it.

    It's helpful to know what the officer should have done regarding the issuing of the citation.

    I agree that the motorist was silly (maybe he was just naive about how his reaching into the pocket would be perceived).

    But if the officer had acted correctly at first, the motorist would never have been out of his car and the tasing incident wouldn't have happened.

  7. I agree with urban koda. Both the trooper and the guy he arrested made mistakes. Also, afterwards there was a tasteless remark, "he took a ride with the taser."

    However, the incident ended with no permanent injury to anyone. Better safe than sorry, the motorist could have had a concealed weapon in his pocket or in the car.

  8. One question I still have, that may mean that I'm overreacting to this "use of force", is 'How dangerous are tasers?' If really the only danger is that someone might hit their head on something when they fall, maybe it really is a humane way to diffuse such situations.

  9. From what I understand they technology behind tasers makes them very safe, but also incredibly effective at diffusing a situation. I still think we need to exercise caution when authorizing their use, but I think it works out better for everyone when it's used instead of a hand gun.

  10. This was a hard one for me. When I watched the video, I was disgusted with the officers actions. But over the next few days I thought about it, and like Frank says above, I would be no good at law enforcement.

    I can see myself getting mad enough to pull the taser out where I in that same situation.

    And there is some truth to the "cops watching CSI" depiction described here. I have two close relatives in different capacities of law enforcement. Knowing them well, I know they are human beings with weaknesses and triggers, just as anyone would have. I think what influences the average person also influences authority figures, from the police, to politicians, in the very same way.

    It's frightening to think about, but still true. So, overall, I think the video shows the over zealous behavior of that single officer more than a general symbol of abuse within law enforcement, but I'd ad the disclaimer that these isolated incidents deserve the attention the receive, to keep things in check.

    I hear CSI is a very popular show.


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