latimes.com reports that the U.S. 9th Circuit Court of Appeals has ruled that the Seattle and Maui police used excessive force by deploying two TASERs (one in each case). In the Seattle situation, the cops stun-gunned a seven-month pregnant woman using the drive stun method (no prong). In Maui, officers used a stun gun on a woman involved in a domestic dispute. What did we learn from all that, then? Well, for one thing . . .

The cops’ actions didn’t jibe with accepted police policy. In fact, most U.S. police agencies have stun gun deployment policies developed according to recommendations from TASER International. Our department has 15 guidelines on when, where and how to use the Dart Firing Stun Gun (DFSG). Here are some examples of how NOT to use it:

1)      As a cattle prod
2)      Use in a punitive manner
3)      During an interrogation
4)      On helpless or disabled people
5)      Children under 12 or appear to be
6)      A pregnant person (unless exigent articulable circumstances necessitate the use)

These are guidelines—and only guidelines. As the old Zen expression says, the map is not the territory. Officers respond to thousands of calls a year. Each one is different. At any one of these calls a civilian can go from 0 (cooperative) to 60 (war) in a blink of an eye. Although police are trained to recognize certain behaviors that indicate a person is overwhelmed with emotion (to be PC about it), they have to judge the totality of the incident in a very short time.

Mistakes are made. Sins of omission and commission. Truth be told, a TASER is only as effective as its user’s training. And nothing—other than experience—can train an officer to process all the factors that lead to a TASER deployment. Nor can an officer be fully prepared for the wide range of responses to the threat of a TASER, or what happens when they pull the trigger. Unless they’re trained (as they should be) to expect the unexpected.

As police TASERs become more commonplace (welcome New Jersey!), the public / bad guys are more prepared for them. Plenty of perps are aware that thick clothing can prevent a TASER’s barb from making skin contact. I’ve seem suspects waving shirts and towels to defeat the probes. I have TASED people who have been shocked before who just ride out the five seconds of pain, rip the wires out as soon as it’s over, and flee.

A police officer deploying a TASER must remain vigilant to the possibility of its failure, but they should also have compassion for the people on the receiving end. And after a TASER incident, trainers and administrators should analyze its effectiveness. They should not be afraid to change their stun gun policies to protect the public and the police department’s best interestes—without compromising safety for civilians or peace officers.

Luckily, when courts rule on police matters—especially when they rule against law enforcement—you can be sure that policy change is coming and coming fast. Which is exactly how it should be.

12 Responses to Chris Fusaro on New TASER Rulings

  1. the fact that this guys said that he would rather get beat up than shocked makes me hope that i never get zapped by on of these things. wow

  2. What is even more disturbing, “…the court said the officers weren’t liable in the civil suits filed against them because the law governing Taser use wasn’t clearly established at the time of Brooks’ 2004 arrest or when Mattos was jolted…”

    Why does law governing Taser use need to be established? It was an act of violence, the weapon they used is completely irrelevant. The law is well established when it comes to use of force.

    • “Why does law governing Taser use need to be established?”

      Police in the United States are cloaked with qualified immunity, which means that in most circumstances, they cannot be sued for their conduct. What’s qualified about this immunity? It doesn’t apply to willful or reckless violations of “clearly established” Constitutional rights. What’s an example of a clearly established right? The 1st Circuit just ruled that the right to film police officers in public while on duty was a clearly established right, so the plaintiff was free to sue the cops for arresting him/her for filming them and ostensibly violating MA’s wiretapping statute.

      The reason qualified immunity exists is because it is designed to ensure that police will not hesitate to take reasonable, good faith steps that are designed to minimize the harm or danger being faced by the public. It’s a good doctrine, but sometimes it does make you wonder if it isn’t time for some basic reforms…

      • I’m well aware of the qualified and absolute immunity certain members of the gov’t receive. The point being, if a cop were to attack you with a tuna fish, would he too be immune of civil suits, because there is insufficient prior case law regarding using fish as a weapon? The court didnt dismiss the civil complaint because of their immunity, but rather because there was insufficient case law regarding a specific weapon.

  3. What seems to be consistently ignored is the amount of times people don’t get shot or physically beaten because officers had the option of a Taser. Not only that but think about how many injuries to or deaths of LEOs have been avoided because a Taser was an option. Do some officers use Tasers too liberally? Undoubtedly, but unfortunately and frustratingly the numbers in favor of Taser use are intrinsically impossible to truly measure because we are dealing with the question of what “may” have happened without the use of a Taser. Impossible when concrete numbers are needed. Aside from beautiful women, certain guns and certain vintage cars there is nothing else on this great Earth that can be called perfect including the Taser and the officers that use them.

    And by the way, the 9th Circuit Court are the worthless bastards that told the majority of voters here in AZ that SB 1070 wasn’t all the way legit. Circuits as I understand it are in the Constitution but so much for States rights which was kinda sorta the main catalyst for the Civil War…..

  4. Seattle PD, King County and Snohomish sherrifs are TERRIBLE about tasers. I have been threatened with their use on TWO seperate occosions, once for refusing to provide photo I.D to an officer (I was on foot, and not in a vehicle) and once because I refused to consent to the search of my vehicle. They called this “resisting”. I may not look like it, but I am a former U.S Marine and work in the firearms industry. I am, in fact, one of the good guys, and this explanation did little to help my case. Names and badge numbers were reported, but, apperentley, to no affect.

    • Exactly. Only idiots are complaining about the *existence* of tasers. The problem has always been that they are often used disproportionately, because while they induce large amounts of pain they do not leave marks, and are not seen as being as violent as beating up a suspect.

      Any time someone uses a taser, don’t think “would it have been appropriate to restrain and forcibly cuff them”, think “would it have been appropriate to hit them with a night stick or punch them in the face.”

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