Thursday, June 18, 2009

Taser Death in Australia

Last week a mentally disturbed drug-addict died in Australia after policed tasered him 28 times. Police lied at first and said he was only shot three times, but data from the weapon showed the higher number. It is difficult to tell whether taser use was justifiable at all in this instance, at least from the reports I've seen. According to the article linked above, the victim
had gone on a naked rampage just days after being released from a psychiatric hospital. According to police, he was threatening to harm himself and officers so they tried to use capsicum spray on him.

But it's unclear whether he had a weapon or what exactly he was doing. And we know police lied about the number of shots fired, so it's possible they lied about the circumstances as well. This was not a one-on-one situation. The report indicates that there were multiple officers involved. It's difficult to believe that 28 shots from a taser could possibly have been a justifiable response.

This incident illustrates yet again that tasers are a potentially lethal weapon. They should not be used to enforce "compliance" with police orders, fired at children, or employed in situations that don't involve truly serious danger to police. Here's another example from the U.S. of what I consider taser abuse.

deputies attempted to give verbal commands to the suspect, a 26-year-old Volga man, to get him to cooperate. 
To gain compliance from the man, the deputies had to draw their Tasers and deploy
Unfortunately this type of tasering is common and accepted. The person in question was a "street dancer" involved in some kind of fight. Once again there were multiple officers involved, and the man was unarmed. Is it really too much to ask that two or more trained police officers be able to subdue a single unarmed man without blasting him with 50,000 volts?  If you are too lazy or weak to learn and utilize effective hand-to-hand techniques designed to subdue an assailant, especially with a two-to-one or greater advantage, then you have no business being on a police force. A taser should not be a substitute for effective training, or something police can easily resort to in order to avoid any risk to themselves. Police officers are supposed to "protect and serve," not put their own safety above that of the public. If you want to stay safe and take minimal risks, don't become a police officer.


  1. I agree with you completely. I don't care how psychotic the man was (and it certainly sounds as if he was in the middle of a psychotic episode), it certainly doesn't take 28 blasts with 50,000 volts to take someone down.

    I think the problem is this: when police are only armed with pistols (generally Glock 9's in the US), they are faced with two choices: deadly force or figure something else out. Tasers give them the ability to subdue people with the illusion that it's harmless- it's not the Glock after all. That's the dangerous thing.

    I also think police officers should receive training in dealing with the mentally ill. Recently, in my city, a mentally ill 52 year old woman was shot to death by the police. They say she attacked them with a knife, bystanders say she was holding the knife, but not weilding it. Sadly, family members were set to take her to the psych hospital the next day. They were waiting for an opening.

  2. I think that there is a time and place for taser use. I'm not against tasers per se, I just think the rules for using them should be greatly tightened. That incident you mention is an example where a taser would be useful and justified. If she was standing there with a knife, not actually attacking, but refusing to drop it, shooting her with a taser would be a reasonable respone. Someone standing far enough away with a knife is a potentially deadly threat, but a taser gives police a way to eliminate the threat short of killing the person. And yes, police should be trained in dealing with the mentally ill. And it would be nice if they took that into account when deciding what level of force to employ.

    But like you said, tasers give the illusion of being a harmless way to subdue people. Not only that, but they are a convenient short-cut that substitutes for having to do something more difficult. That's why they are used all too often.

  3. I'm not a police officer, but I had to play one in Iraq and my experience is it is a rare situation that a taser is needed. Especially when there are multiple officers, a little training and you can take somebody down without much trouble. Even the suspect with a knife can be handled without a taser, and I'm not sure a taser makes it any safer for the cop.

    These tasers are more of a liability than an asset both for police and for citizens.

  4. I think there is a narrow window where the taser might be the correct weapon, and I don't expect police to take unreasonable risks. Like you say, a knife can be defeated without it, but at least that would be a justifiable use.

    "These tasers are more of a liability than an asset both for police and for citizens."

    There may be something to that. The transit officer who shot an unarmed man in the back in San Francisco claims that he meant to use his taser and accidentally pulled his pistol. If that's true the man would be alive right now if there were no tasers -- and the officer wouldn't be facing a murder charge.

  5. Good example you gave there.