Op-Ed by Alek Hidell
The recent Tasering of then 17-year-old Bryce Masters by Missouri cop Timothy Runnels has sparked outrage in the community and around the world. Runnels improper use of the Taser caused Bryce’s heart to stop for eight minutes. A twenty-three second jolt of 50,000 watts ended his life for a short time resulting in irreparable brain damage. Runnels was sentenced to four years in prison for his act of brutality against a defenseless kid. While this may bring some closure to Bryce’s family, it leaves the civilized world left to re-open the debate over Taser’s safety and whether or not it has a place in our society.
The question of whether or not the Taser should be used by today’s police is a complex one. There are many questions which should be asked and answered before coming to a rational and final conclusion. My career in law enforcement lasted about a decade. I carried a Taser for six or seven of those years and used it maybe a dozen times. We had clear-cut training on when to use the Taser, when NOT to use it, and how to use it “safely.” That being said, I have been Tased twice in training and at least three times, inadvertently, in the field. My experiences show that when used properly, the vast majority of the time, the electric shock itself is relatively safe. The vast majority of the time that someone dies or suffers irreparable harm, the Taser is used improperly or under circumstances which dictate the Taser should not be used. All in all, the question remains. Seeing that police continue to abuse the Taser, turning to it first as a fast way to end a simple situation, and ignore fundamental Taser safety training, should we continue to allow their use?
Between 2001 and 2014, there were 634 cases of Taser-related deaths in this country. In 2001 only 1100 agencies used the Taser. By 2009, that number skyrocketed to over 14,000. Today, Taser is standard carry for virtually all agencies. For a non-lethal weapon, there seem to be a lot of deaths attached to it. Some of these cases involve people with medical conditions that adversely reacted to the Taser, some of these do not. Why these people died is irrelevant, they never should have. If the Taser is used every day, all over the country; and if even 1% have adverse reactions or suffer death, should we still support its use?
One of the more well-known examples of a Tasering gone wrong is the case of Danielle Maudsley, a twenty-year-old DUI suspect who was Tased while fleeing handcuffed from Florida Trooper Daniel Cole in 2011. Maudsley’s body locked up and she fell to the ground, hitting her head. Her head injury caused brain damage and put her in a vegetative state. The problem here isn’t the Taser itself, it is the circumstance under which the Taser was used. Here’s the biggest problem with this situation in particular. The Trooper did exactly what he was trained to do. A shot to the back of a running suspect is directly out of the Taser training handbook. He did what his agency policy and Florida law dictated. So where does the problem lie? The training? Taser Policy? The law? I suggest that since we have seen that police blatantly overstep their role in society and disregard public safety as well as law and department policy, Taser be removed from their repertoire of secondary weapons.
Police argue that the Taser is a tool that is used to end violent conflict before it starts. They would argue that the Taser is a safe alternative to other weapons, and in and of itself that is true. But we’ve seen that the problem with Taser goes beyond the device itself and that its improper use is widespread. Police agencies are faced with budget cuts every year, which cuts into training. This results in officers being sent out on the road with a four-hour Taser training course, not truly understanding the great responsibility which comes along with its carry. The Taser itself has shown to be an effective tool, but in the wrong hands it can be a deadly one. It is no longer a risk that we, as a civilized society, should not take any longer.