Any police forces with tasers that *don’t* abuse them?

We’ve had countless serious examples of tasers being misused overseas, in Queensland and now Western Australia:

West Australian Premier Colin Barnett has described vision of an unarmed man being tasered 13 times as damaging for the reputation of the state’s police force.

Remember, these things can be fatal. The idea is for them to be used only as nonlethal alternatives for situations in which a firearm would’ve been necessary, but the reality is that police use them as easy compliance devices – you do what we say, or you suffer excruciating pain. (Unprincipled police use O/C spray the same way.)

But the question remains: what precisely is WA going to do to stop this happening in future? Will it work? Is there any jurisdiction in which police are equipped with tasers where they don’t use them in inappropriate situations? If not, why are we so determined to waste millions of taxpayers’ dollars on the things? (Particularly when we’re busy cutting funding to necessary services.)

UPDATE 5/10: Oh, and a pregnant woman was tased up to eight times in WA.

And then, hours after this post went up, police tased a man to death in Sydney this morning.

Meanwhile, police continue to trial tasers in regional Victoria…

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24 responses to “Any police forces with tasers that *don’t* abuse them?

  1. How can anyone exect them to use tasers more carefully than they use everything else at their disposal? They need to be held to account, continually, for everything and it is the public’s fault that they are what they are. In a former penal colony they were only ever around for ‘control,’ not to ‘serve.’

  2. jordanrastrick

    I support police having tasers, perhaps because I am in a demographic with a much higher likelihood of being fatally shot by law enforcement, and I’d very much prefer to be subdued non-lethally.

    As things stand, though, governments don’t seem to put strong enough safeguards in play, given the high potential for abuse. Of course as you already noted, unethical police already have capsicum spray at their disposal, not to mention several other means of violent coercion.

    Better training that gives well-intentioned officers more options for defusing situations with minimal force, and better screening to keep the worst elements who aren’t much better than thugs who relish the idea of fights out of the force in the first place, seem like the best avenues to pursue in addressing these issues.

  3. I read about a plan to attach cameras to tasers, which would reduce their potential misuse.

    http://www.abc.net.au/news/stories/2009/11/24/2751513.htm

    Immediate rollout of tasercam is supported by the police union.

  4. Considering the growing number of people killed by police tasers, it is time to do away with the notion of those tasers being non-lethal. They are anything but. Just because I can use a pistol to shoot you in the leg doesn’t make it non-lethal, and repeated tasering is playing with peoples lives.

  5. There has to be some conflict between repeated tasering and the notion of “reasonable force”. Which implies that repeated tasering could be at least an assault.

    I guess everyone who has a mobile phone has a video camera attached so if you see the cops repeatedly tasering someone – record it if you object to that sort of thing. (And you are one of those people who has a mobile.) Thats the only way this will happen:

    “They need to be held to account, continually, for everything …”

  6. jordanrastrick

    Considering the growing number of people killed by police tasers, it is time to do away with the notion of those tasers being non-lethal. They are anything but. Just because I can use a pistol to shoot you in the leg doesn’t make it non-lethal, and repeated tasering is playing with peoples lives.

    Pfft. Semantic nitpicking. Even the taser marketing companies generally use the more accurate term “less-lethal” now. Weapons exist on more or less a contiuum of potential lethality from plastic forks to hydgrogen bombs. Nothing that the police carry are an exception – batons can kill, sprays can kill, tasers can kill, guns can kill. The only material point for this debate is that tasers are far less likely to be fatal than guns.

    I read about a plan to attach cameras to tasers[….] Immediate rollout of tasercam is supported by the police union.

    Thoroughly sensible idea. The support of the police union is hardly surprising, since most police act in good faith and the abuses perpetuated by a minority reflect poorly on the rest and make their jobs harder.

    “They need to be held to account, continually, for everything …”

    Exactly. Tasers haven’t changed the fundamental fact that the best defence against abuses of power, whether by the police or anyone else, is a well-informed citizenry aware of their rights and willing to question authority. Every other safeguard we put in place – cameras on weapons, internal affairs units, Police Integrity Comissions – are essentially refinements of the transparency that stems from a widespread cultural allegience to the rule of law.

  7. “if you see the cops repeatedly tasering someone – record it if you object to that sort of thing”

    I would, if I was convinced that they wouldn’t taser me.. Just saying.

  8. Or identify you using their 196 cctv cameras, then release your personal information to criminal informants, harass you at work and taser you.

  9. Here’s another allegation from WA today:

    Pregnant woman ‘Tasered up to eight times’

    http://www.watoday.com.au/wa-news/pregnant-woman-tasered-up-to-eight-times-20101005-165e8.html

    “Claims a woman in her final stage of pregnancy was Tasered up to eight times by WA police officers have added weight to arguments that the weapons are being abused.

    Aboriginal Legal Service chief executive officer Dennis Eggington said a small number of police had a Robocop-style mentality when using the stun-guns.

    A Corruption and Crime Commission report, tabled in WA Parliament yesterday, found police were using Tasers to get people to comply with their orders, which is against police guidelines.”

    Again, these are allegations but they don’t do anything to convince me, a law abiding citizen that cops are anything but bullies.. All of them? Probably not but I can’t remember the last time I met a nice one…

  10. I’d like to know how soldiers can be held to account in court for deaths whilst on duty, but Australian police are not.

  11. Ronson Dalby

    Did Sydney police really have to taser this guy last year?

    http://media.smh.com.au/tasered-on-oxford-street-569275.html

    Of course, most NSW cops appear to be seriously overweight and the physical exertion involved in subduing offenders might be dangerous to their health.

  12. jordanrastrick

    At this stage, it seems to be the case that the man fatally tasered in NSW rushed the police armed with a machete or similar weapon. If this proves true, it seems likely he would have been shot in the absence of tasers.

    Fortunately the taser in question does apparently have a camera installed, so hopefully it will provide relatively clear evidence one way or another of whether the officers acted appropriately.

    As for allegations of abuses, they are precisely that – allegations. Police accused of misusing their weapons are as entitled to a presumption of innocence as the people they arrest.

    Police can be and often are held accountable for their actions in courts – much more routinely than soldiers are. There will always be a percentage of bad cops just as there will always be regular criminals, and no doubt some people are always going to get away with things they shouldn’t. We can and should be constantly striving to decrease the opportunities for abuses by police.

    However none of this refutes the underlying operational argument for giving police the ability to subdue the armed, violently intoxicated or psychotic without making use of their firearms. Until I see hard data that the lives saved by tasers are insignificant compared to the magnitude of abuses perpetuated, I’ll continue to support their use. Too many people like me have died in avoidable police shootings for me to be swayed by reflexive leftwing skepticism of any and all police powers.

  13. However none of this refutes the underlying operational argument for giving police the ability to subdue the armed, violently intoxicated or psychotic without making use of their firearms.

    Except that it does refute that principle, especially given the mountain of evidence showing that police are regularly using tasers inappropriately. “People like you” are being tasered for compliance infractions in circumstances where police would previously have negotiated.

    And these aren’t necessarily bad cops either – they’re just cops who have been given a ‘non-lethal’ option that must be incredibly tempting when the subject is being unco-operative. The similarities to the famous Zimbardo experiments is obvious.

    Until I see hard data proving that the lives saved by tasers outweights the lives lost then I’ll continue to oppose their use.

    Also, Jordan, your branding of those who disagree with you as ‘reflexive’ rather than rational is pretty arrogant.

  14. “Until I see hard data that the lives saved by tasers are insignificant compared to the magnitude of abuses perpetuated…”

    Whose significant life did the tasering incident at East Perth Lock-Up save, Jordan?

    Just by the way – every life is significant.

    “Police can be and often are held accountable for their actions in courts – much more routinely than soldiers are. ” Can you give us some examples of that?

  15. jordanrastrick

    Except that it does refute that principle, especially given the mountain of evidence showing that police are regularly using tasers inappropriately. “People like you” are being tasered for compliance infractions in circumstances where police would previously have negotiated.

    I’m going to give you the benefit of the doubt and assume that those aren’t suppose to be “scare quotes”. Moving along, plenty of police are using tasers inappropriately. Particularly in states like WA which seem to have more of a culture of abusive practice in the criminal justice system, as other issues like deaths in custody have highlighted.

    Police can and sshould negotiate with people who are clearly a danger to themselves and others, and its entirely plausible that they’re becoming lazier at doing so given the presence of an alternative. The point though is the case for having such an alternative for when negotiation fails is still there. Previously, the options were negotiate or open fire, with no real middle ground if the situation was above a certain not especially high threshold of danger. If you only consider the costs and not the benefits of allowing law enforcement access to these devices, of course they will seem a bad idea.

    [….]The similarities to the famous Zimbardo experiments is obvious.

    Yes, well I don’t believe in inherently good or bad people – in this case by bad I only refer to people whose actions have bad consequences, whether because of their genes or their upbringing or simply because someone gives them authority over another human.

    Although its quite distasteful to paraphrase the NRA, “tasers don’t abuse people, police abuse people.” To put that another way, police already have Zimbardo-esque authority over others, and a variety of means to abuse it. The shocking footage today of a defenseless person being tasered unnecessarily could easily have been yesterday’s footage of cops using capsicum spray, batons, phone books, handcuffs, bright lights, verbals threats and so forth in a similar fashion. If you can show data, not of police misusing tasers, but of total instances of abuse or similar on the rise as a result of tasers being introduced, and can contrast it with figures on police use of firearms that show a very small or non-existent drop in shootings (not to mention reduced instances of police being assaulted), you might convince me. Until then, it is essentially my intution that tasers do more good than harm against yours to the contrary, without evidence to decide the question one way or another. In the meantime, I’ll continue to take issue with anti-taser arguments that seem especially unlikely to be true.

    Also, Jordan, your branding of those who disagree with you as ‘reflexive’ rather than rational is pretty arrogant.

    Well, I consider nearly all of our beliefs to heavily reflexive; it is human nature to take cognitive shortcuts, even when you’re aware of this fact and strive to combat it. People engaged in a good faith argument should hopefully to a good job of bringing such beliefs to one another’s attention.

    Certainly, some of the arguments presented here seem to be of a very reflexive quality. Someone actually pulled out the fat cop stereotype as an anti-taser argument, and I wish I could say it were clear that they were only joking. The recent case in Sefton were a man has tragically died has been cited as if it were an obvious argument against tasers, when on the public information available so far it would appear to support the exact opposite conclusion – a very dangerous person was shot with a taser rather than a Glock by police acting in self-defence, greatly increasing the chances they would survive despite the fact that sadly in this case they have not. Someone else attacked the utter strawman position that tasers are “non-lethal”, rather than merely less lethal than guns. None of the anti-taser advocates, including yourself Mondo, have engaged with the idea of cameras on tasers to drastically limit their scope for abuse – a policy which is soon to apply universally in NSW.

    However, if the word reflexive offends you, feel free to substitue “fallacious” or “invalid” or, with a slight paraphrasing of my original sentence, “wrong”. If its arrogant to think that I am right and the people I’m debating are wrong, then I’m afraid I’ll just have to be arrogant.

    Whose significant life did the tasering incident at East Perth Lock-Up save, Jordan?

    No one, and no one is claiming that it did.

    Just by the way – every life is significant.</blockquote?

    Again, no one is claiming that they aren't.

    My use of the word significant was a reference to the relative magnitudes of the negative consequences of tasers versus the positive, not a judgement about the importance or value of any individual human life. I would have thought that was obvious by the context of the sentence, particularly the phrase "hard data".

    Can you give us some examples of that?

    Sure. A quick google reveals that seven police officers were prosecuted, convicted and jailed merely as a consequence of the NSW Wood Royal Comission into Police Corruption:

    http://www.smh.com.au/news/national/holding-judgement/2007/06/08/1181089328815.html

    Whereas the charges the ADF have brought in Afghanistan are I believe the first time legal cases brought against any Australian soldiers for offences pertaining to their duties since… what, the Vietnam War?

  16. Splatterbottom

    Our disgustingly corrupt and bullying police forces (especially here in NSW) need to learn that their role is to protect and serve. I’m not of the view that their weapons should be taken away from them, but they certainly need more controls in place about when and where they use them. They would get more respect and co-operation if they were actually seen to be serving the people.

  17. “They would get more respect and co-operation if they were actually seen to be serving the people.”

    I’m in complete agreement SB.

  18. “They would get more respect and co-operation if they were actually seen to be serving the people.”

    I think it was 1998 the name of the NSW Police was changed to NSW Police Service which is, as I believe, the way it should be.

    In 2006 it was changed back to NSW Police Force.

    I guess serving the public is a little more exhausting than being forceful with tasers, spray, sniffer dogs etc.

    http://www.smh.com.au/news/national/the-force-is-with-the-police-again/2006/05/05/1146335911486.html?from=rss

  19. I’m not of the view that their weapons should be taken away from them, but they certainly need more controls in place about when and where they use them.

    I agree in principle, but where the weapon itself presents an irresistable temptation to abuse then I think that the question of whether ‘controls’ will ever be sufficient needs to be asked.

  20. jordanrastrick

    Our disgustingly corrupt and bullying police forces (especially here in NSW) need to learn that their role is to protect and serve.

    A great many police officers are bullies, but “disgustingly corrupt” is just hyperbole. Even at the “Blue Murder” peak of police corruption in NSW, it wasn’t systemic throughout the force to the same extent it is in many – well to be honest, most – juristictions throughout the world. Studies in recent years have consistently found Australia to be one of the least corrupt places (for all arms of government, not just Police) in the world.

    I’m not of the view that their weapons should be taken away from them, but they certainly need more controls in place about when and where they use them.

    Agreed, on both points. Cameras on every taser in the state is a good start. Rules (if needs be backed by legislation) ensuring that police caught acting like those in the WA example are dismissed, even when the victim chooses not to press criminal charges, would be a good idea.

  21. jordanrastrick

    I guess mondo that the fundamental disagreement between us stems from your clear belief in “taser exceptionalism” – some inherent, mysterious property that means they present an “irresistible temptation” for abuse that cannot be safeguarded against, in a way that batons and sprays and sidearms and water cannons and riot gear and handcuffs and sniper rifles and tear gas do not. I won’t call it naieve, as I wouldn’t want you to think me arrogant.

    P.S. Apologies for the double post, but pre-emptive moderation ties one’s hands.

  22. Ronson Dalby

    At least she didn’t get tasered:

    http://smh.drive.com.au/motor-news/make-my-day-cop-from-hells-great-barrier-grief-20101007-168o2.html#poll

    And police officers wonder why we have little respect for them.

  23. jordanrastrick

    How is it relevant to a debate about tasers that our traffic laws are moronic and require you to be buckled even in a stationary car? In this case maybe the girls behavior was actually more dangerous than she realized – depending on how far she was leaned out of her car, whether the park brake was on etc, she may have been at risk of losing control of the vehicle.

    Police selectively apply minor infringements in a discretionary fashion, sometimes depending on their temperament and mood. Big whoop. The same is true of council parking inspectors, or the person in the call centre who decides whether to give you a $200 refund even though technically the company isn’t obliged to.

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