Thursday, November 22, 2007

Fun With Tasers, Part 3

A police propaganda outlet cites a number of recent studies which it claims prove that Tasers are quite safe. Aside from the fact that a study on "safe" weapons from the Canadian Police Research Centre is approximately as credible as the latest "science" papers from the Discovery Institute, these studies are probably quite accurate: there's probably almost no risk at all in being zapped once or twice by a taser under calm, controlled conditions. Unfortunately, for the most part the deaths occur in situations where victims are not calm, are often high, and are typically shot at least several times. Unfortunately most university ethics boards aren't going to approve tests where sleep-deprived undergrads are given large doses of cocaine, shot multiple times with a taser, and then held prone on the ground while a thug in a suit leans on their neck with his knee. Oh, for the days of Stanley Milgram and Philip Zimbardo.

Regardless of what contrived lab tests can be summoned by the police lobby, the fact remains that in field conditions people are dying after being shot with a taser. Most of these circumstances are ones where police would never consider drawing their guns and deliberately attempting to kill the person - the Dziekanski case is a perfect example of this. Instead, according to the RCMP's civilian complaints commissioner, there is mounting evidence that tasers are routinely used in situations which would previously have been resolved non-violently, as a way of rapidly getting people to comply with police orders. Like taking down an unarmed and non-violent subject in the middle of Vancouver airport, for example. Tasers are publicly claimed to be safe, non-lethal weapons used in situations where much greater physical force would have to be used; yet this is demonstrably not true. Furthermore, given the number of deaths, individual officers cannot really be certain that the victim is going to survive being shot in any given situation. These would seem to be perfectly good reasons to at least sharply restrict the situations in which taser use is permitted.

In the meantime, another oops, this time in Nova Scotia, although the circumstances in this one are pretty vague. That makes at least three dead here in the last two months. As usual, the police are going to investigate the police on the Halifax case. Good thing we know the RCMP never lie to the public about such things.