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The New York Civil Liberties Union (NYCLU) has released a study claiming that police throughout the Empire State are overusing and misusing TASERs. Click here to read Taking Tasers Seriously; The need for better regulation of stun guns in New York. Based on 851 TASER incident reports from eight police departments, the study’s bullet points paint a picture of police who don’t follow TASER guidelines (findings after the jump), mostly using the stun gun for “pain compliance” on suspects passively resisting The Man. As our man Fusaro pointed out, the map is not the territory; it’s hard to judge TASER use without considering the totality of the circumstances surrounding deployment. And introducing race into the debate is, perhaps, not helpful. Still, the NYCLU’s call for better TASER training and monitoring (rather than new regulations) is a damn fine idea.

  • Nearly 60 percent of reported Taser incidents did not meet expert-recommended criteria that limit the weapon’s use to situations where officers can document active aggression or a risk of physical injury.
  • Fifteen percent of incident reports indicated clearly inappropriate Taser use, such as officers shocking people who were already handcuffed or restrained.
  • Only 15 percent of documented Taser incidents involved people who were armed or who were thought to be armed, belying the myth that Tasers are most frequently used as an alternative to deadly force.
  • More than one-third of Taser incidents involved multiple or prolonged shocks, which experts link to an increased risk of injury and death.
  • More than a quarter of Taser incidents involved shocks directly to subjects’ chest area, despite explicit warnings by the weapon’s manufacturer that targeting the chest can cause cardiac arrest.
  • In 75 percent of incidents, no verbal warnings were reported, despite expert recommendations that verbal warnings precede Taser firings.
  • 40 percent of the Taser incidents analyzed involved at-risk subjects, such as children, the elderly, the visibly infirm and individuals who are seriously intoxicated or mentally ill.

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30 Responses to NYCLU Study: TASERs Gone Wild

  1. When a cop tells you to do something, you should do what he says or you’re going to get zapped or sprayed. You can whine and moan about how unfair it might be, but the cops going to win almost everytime.

    • +1
      I don’t think he used excessive force. She failed to comply and she was confrontational. There are videos that I’m in favor of the civilian, but this is not one of them.

        • +1 – She should have immediately returned to her car – but to tase her based on what I saw in this video was over the top.

          We should go back to profiling – like it or not, police profile anyways – they just don’t document it.

        • +2
          Common elements which justify using a taser were not present, such as violence, fleeing, or impending harm to the officer. Unless you count her nagging as dangerous.

  2. Hmmmm….. people on this thread seem to really like the taste of their master’s boot leather. (KIDDING!) But seriously, while in the abstract you are correct that one way not to get tased for noncompliance is to, well, comply, I think this cop’s supervisors are going to have some questions for him regarding his decision to announce “you’re under arrest” at that point. Assuming–as we have to from this video–that this is all he said, for one thing he failed to preface this with a “command and consequence” statement, like “Ma’am, right now this is just a speeding ticket. If you do not follow my instructions and get back in the car, you are subject to arrest.” Or, “get back in the car or I will arrest you and put cuffs on you!” Or whatever.

    Anyway, that might not have worked (and maybe he said it, and this woman’s lawyer has told her the importance of not confirming that he said it). Whatever. The other problem is simply the arrest part. Because, having said that, he CAN’T BACK DOWN. Maybe there are some particularities in street policing practices that someone could educate me on, but the general principle is that, once you’ve arrested someone, only a judge can “un-arrest” them. So you’ve written yourself a check that you now HAVE to cash.

    I’m sure his supervisor would greatly prefer that he’d said “get back in the car or I will put cuffs on you for my safety and yours.” Which wouldn’t be an arrest. And which might have gotten through to her. ….

  3. The biggest problem I see here and in many other police issues, is the officers these days seem to completely lack any type of de-escalation skillsTasers, Pepper Spray, Baton, etc. are not designed to be a go button. They are designed to counter a threat that does not warrant the use of deadly force.If this officer had simply treated the woman fairly (aka acknowledged that she was arguing her innocence, and explained that she could argue her case before the judge in traffic court) then this likely would have never happened. I also believe based on the snippet we see here that the officer gave some indication that he had video evidence of her on a cell phone (which she was not). When an officer lies to a citizen sometimes they might get a confession, but if they are wrong they are going to get an upset citizen, and they are responsible for creating that situation.This driver may not have done everything right, but at the end of the day we are not given training as to how to take a ticket or get lied to by a supposed public servant. Police officers on the other hand have extensive training, and a responsibility to protect, serve, and uphold the public trust. I would have to say that in this case the officer’s failure here is of much greater concern than the motorist’s

  4. I for one, do NOT like the taste of my master’s boot-leather. (KIDDING! oh wait! NOT KIDDING!!)

    If you think the officer is wrong, that’s what court is for. Period. That’s the lawful way to fight a traffic ticket. You cannot demand to see the dash-cam. You cannot demand to see the radar gun display.

    This woman CHOSE to tango with a guy who:

    Carries a taser
    Carries a baton
    Carries a gun
    Carries a badge given to him by the commissioner of police who has bestowed upon this man the right to enforce the law and use his own discretion in the field.

    This woman refused to comply with an officer of the law giving a lawful order. She compounded the problem by resisting arrest from what I can see. What was she going to do? Get back in the car and start up a chase with her kids in the car? The cop probably saved her from multiple felonies by tasering her.

    We need police, so we need to cooperate with them IN THE FIELD. The place to resist the police is in the courtroom and at the ballot box where the elected officials who set policy are chosen.

  5. I think what is needed is better training for police, as was mentioned before and civics classes for civilians (Do they still offer Civics in High School?).

  6. I think he placed her under arrest WAY too quickly for what was apparently a disagreement (we will have to take her word for it that she merely asked to see the tape). She did not have a weapon, try to flee, or make threatening moves. The cop took a stance right away and went for the taser. I would suggest she fled into her vehicle because she was genuinely afraid of being tased. Besides, he wanted her to get back in the car, right? So the intimidation worked.
    This was a traffic stop, not a felony pursuit of a robbery suspect. The very definition of appropriate force centers around assessing the situation, not going for force right off the bat.
    Tasers are thought of as non lethal but someone with a pacemaker will be injured by them. A person tased can be seriously injured by falling to the ground. Use of tasers is getting very common and a bit out of hand.

    Some may disagree but that’s my opinion from what I saw (just don’t taze me Bro)

    • Cops get shot at routine traffic stops frequently – in some jurisdictions it’s probably the most likely place they get shot. I think it is reasonable to ask a civilian to stay in the car, nor is it unreasonable to comply.

      Considering how many really bad guys get caught for rolling a stop sign, it is perfectly reasonable for a cop to want to have complete compliance during a traffic stop, and to get bent out of shape if the civilian does not listen.

      • While I believe you that many cops get shot at at traffic stops, given the number of traffic stops a cop does per day, I would still imagine that the chances of any random person (especially someone who is not acting like they are being threatening) being someone who will shoot at a cop is still pretty low.

        Officer safety is a serious thing, but it isn’t a get out of jail free card.

  7. I think being tasered by the NYPD is better that them pulling out their guns and spraying the surounding area with missed bullets hitting inocent people

  8. In Edmonton Alberta, Canada you can ask to see the laser or radar display showing your speed and I have. The cops here don’t seem to mind showing it. They also seem to be more reasonable and polite than this police officer.

    • If she had asked to see the tape after the officer had returned, or after complying with the officer’s orders to stay in the car, perhaps she would have.

      I seem to recall being invited back to the patrol car to sit in the passenger seat where the cop reviewed the radar gun with me while filling out the citation. That may have been a state trooper…

      Bottom line – do what the officer says – bitch to a judge.

      • Yes I agree that following the police officers instructions is the best idea and I am sure the tape only tells a portion of the story. BUT, tasering an unarmed housewife in the company of her children will be hard to justify to anyone.

      • Just because the woman was out of line doesn’t mean she deserved to get shocked. She may have deserved to be arrested, I’m not sure on the specific law. But tasering is for threats to the officer’s safety, not just for being an idiot.

  9. That police use unnecessary force on a regular basis is hardly earth-shattering news. To really shock the world, find a story where cops showed admirable restraint.

    It used to be well-established law that resisting an unlawful arrest, even with deadly force if necessary, was the legal right of Americans. No more. As far as I know, only Oregon has a law on it’s books providing that an unlawful arrest is a valid defense to a resisting charge, and I’m not sure how effective it has been. What I do know is that cops, once viewed primarly as public servants, are now often viewed as would-be tyrants.

    Unfortunately, tasers and other less-than-lethal implements have given the police a greater ability to dispense pain without the inconvenience of the victim’s funeral. Banning them will do no good, or have we forgotten rubber truncheons and plunger handles?

  10. As to whether the officer was out of line, the case has been settled out of court- the county will pay Ms. Harmon something to the tune of $75,000. So I don’t think there’s really much question about that.

    http://www.cnycentral.com/news/story.aspx?id=390616#.TqG_mJua9_8

    Hit ’em where it hurts, and local governments will put pressure on police departments for following the rules.

    I hope Ms. Harmon donates the money (or whatever doesn’t go to her lawyer) to a good cause. Like Ron Paul 2012.

  11. I’ve always held, if it’s not worth cracking a skull with a night stick or flashlight, it’s certainly not worth tasering. If you feel this woman warranted being beaten over the head for non-compliance, then the taser makes perfect sense. If not…

  12. I feel that tasers should be outlawed, there is too much abuse by “police” against unarmed people, and they don’t care who they use it against, if they cause a death will they be held accountable to answer for their crime.

  13. Had to response to “Chris’s” comment regarding outlawing tasers. Speaking from only my personal experience with the three agencies I worked for before retiring after close to 40 years and speaking with fellow officers in other agencies, I can only say that removing tasers will result in more injuries and deaths to both officers and suspects as the loss of the taser option will increase the use of “hard hands” physical compliance with increased risk of serious physical injury to both parties involved, increased reliance on baton strikes and finally, the use of a firearm. In all of these scenarios, the risk of injury is higher than the use of a taser. Often, just the threat of taser use allows the arrest to be made without actual physical confrontation as the suspect will “most” often submit to arrest without resistance. Having said this, I will agree there seems to be way too much unnecessary use of tasers, particularly, in my experience, from the newer younger officers straight out of the academy and with little street experience in dealing with citizens other than by the superior power (mostly in his mind) given him by the badge and the gear.

  14. I write this as a career patrol officer (16 years) who is involved in training new police officers in the field as well as instructing officers in the use of force and traffic stop tactics.

    The issues that I have with the woman’s actions (and I appreciate her being candid about not complying and resisting in her narration of the events). She gets out of the vehicle without being asked. This is not considered safe and officers are trained to not allow occupants to exit the vehicle unless THEY want them to. The roadside is not the place to argue the reason for the traffic stop. If you want to argue do it in a courtroom where it is well lit, air conditioned, and the possibility of being run over by a passing vehicle is minimized. If you request to see the radar, video, sign, etc. and the officer refuses that is the end of that discussion, if you think you are right make a note of it and remember it for court. When the officer gives you a lawful order to return to your vehicle, this is not the time to get the last word, return to your vehicle. If you have refused all of this other advice, when the officer says you are under arrest, submit to the arrest. It is too late to decide “hmm, this officer is serious I think I will just get in the car now, it is beyond that point.”

    Now on to the officer. I am not aware of his experience level but we are talking about a woman in a minivan with her children. She is setting a bad example by arguing and disrespecting the officer and here was an opportunity to be the good guy and be polite while being authoritative. At least to buy time for a back up unit to arrive so that you have another officer to witness her lack of cooperation and understanding. Or long enough to turn on the audio so your supervisor can hear it. Did it really do any good whatsoever to present the taser? He escalated the force level and lost the initiative. She returned to the vehicle, I would be worried about her driving off, a pursuit with kids in the car, looking silly in front of my coworkers, etc. However, once she was removed from the vehicle and on her knees, just put the cuffs on. Forcing her to the ground when she was at most passively resistive was just asserting your authority but in fairness there is something to be said for following thru with a lawful command.

    Overall, nothing runs all over an officer more than some woman who has no clue what she is talking about asserting her rights that she learned from her friends and youtube on an officer who is just trying to do his job and really doesn’t need the grief… So I can understand why the officer would become flustered and without a few years of experience to apply to the situation might begin making quick decisions and demanding total compliance.

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