Taser manufacturers and police agencies insist that tasers are a safer alternative to many conventional weapons typically used to restrain dangerous individuals. This may be true in situations where tasers are used as an alternative to other impact weapons that can cause serious injury, such as batons or lethal force. However, research shows that in many police departments, officers routinely use tasers primarily as a substitute for low-level force weapons such as pepper spray or chemical spray. Tasers have become a prevalent force tool, often used against individuals who pose no serious danger to themselves, the officers or others.
Amnesty International reports that in instances where tasers are used, 80% of the time they are used on unarmed suspects. In 36% of the cases, they are used for verbal non-compliance, but only 3% of the time for cases involving “deadly assault.”
Since 2001, over 300 cases indicate that tasers exacerbate health issues and accelerate death. In November 2003, a mentally disabled man was tasered by
Incredibly, police officers have tasered pregnant women, even when they are fully aware of their pregnancies. In 2001, Cindy Grippi was tasered in the back for entering her house against the instructions of police officers, despite the fact that she was not engaging in any truly disruptive or criminal behavior. As a result, Grippi fell onto her stomach and recounts that she “felt a sharp pain in her abdomen as the taser struck her.” Hours later, doctors diagnosed Grippi with “fetal demise,” and she delivered a stillborn child. Tianesha Robinson was tasered by police officers in 2006 for resisting arrest during a traffic stop. Days later, she suffered a miscarriage.
Police using tasers are supposedly trained to press the trigger lightly to guarantee that the shock lasts no longer than five seconds. However, there are numerous cases in which police officers have continued to press down on their triggers in hopes of elongating the shot and maximizing pain. In other cases, police officers have continued to shock individuals repeatedly, despite the fact that the first shock achieved their goal of thoroughly immobilizing the target. In 2003, an elderly blind woman, who was also extremely hard of hearing, was struck by a taser three times for failing to respond to police officers. As a result of the taser shocks to her back and the pepper spray to her face, the woman’s prosthetic right eye was ultimately dislodged from its socket.
The use of tasers by police raises a number of concerns for the protection of human rights. Portable and easy to use, with the capacity to inflict severe pain at the push of a button without leaving substantial marks, tasers are obviously open to abuse by officers. Their use often violates standards set out under the United Nations Code of Conduct for Law Enforcement Officials, which requires that force be used as a last resort and that only the minimum amount necessary be used.
Taser International, the company that manufactures and sells the stun guns, has sold them primarily to law enforcement agencies. The company has sold several hundred thousand to such agencies nationwide. However, since 1994, slightly less powerful tasers have been sold to the general public.
This development is truly alarming. Silent and instantly crippling, the taser is an ideal weapon for criminals to assist them in robbery, rape, abduction, etc. An attacker can now carry his own personal victim-paralyzing device, powerful enough to instantly incapacitate the victim and give the attacker complete control.
Tasers are also ripe for sadistic use. For example, in January 2008, a man in
Clearly, the use of tasers should be suspended immediately—or at least until a comprehensive medical study can be conducted proving they are safe to the general public when used by police officers. And the police must by law be severely restricted in their use. Otherwise, we are opening the door for rampant abuse and police state tactics.
By John W. Whitehead
Constitutional attorney and author John W. Whitehead is founder and president of The Rutherford Institute. His new book Why We Should Give a Damn: The Struggle to Reignite the Politics of Hope (Sourcebooks) will be out in August 2008. He can be contacted at email@example.com. Information about The Rutherford Institute is available at www.rutherford.org.