Monday, April 03, 2006

What a Shocking Development

Recently in Portland, a man under the influence of cocaine was subdued by a police officer wielding a taser. The man subsequently died while being treated by medical personnel. The State Medical Examiner stated that:

"I have come to the conclusion that [Timothy] Grant died of a cocaine overdose with excited delirium and taser application was not a cause of his death," said Oregon State Medical Examiner Karen Gunson. "Would he have died without the taser? Yes, in my opinion."
Amnesty International has called for a moratorium on the use of tasers by law enforcement in the United States pending further research into taser related deaths. The Medical Examiner concluded that Mr. Grant died of cocaine delirium. Cocaine delirium has also been associated with in-custody deaths related to positional asphyxia in which a person might die of asphyxia (or suffication) usually an intense struggle with police.

I'm not a big fan of tasers; their use should be limited, but I don't think that the community can expect police officers to do a dangerous job without allowing them to employ adequate tools. People under the influence of drugs or those with mental illness are at times almost impossible to control. Police officers are taught to use a use of force continuum in effecting an arrest. The continuum is as follows:

a. Officer presence, uniform
b. Verbal Commands [military orders in reality]
c. Control holds - Come-a-longs and wrist locks.
d. OC - pepper spray/mace
e. Batons
g. Deadly force

Control holds and batons are pain compliance techniques. You twist someone's arm or thump them on the fatty part of the thigh with a baton, the person is supposed to do what you want because they want the pain to stop. Pepper spray and tasers hurt, but they're also supposed to incapacitate an individual. Sometimes they do, sometimes they don't. The more whacked out a person is on drugs or alcohol, the less effective pepper spray may be. The same holds true for a person suffering from mental illness or defect. A person affected by drugs or mental disease may be unusually strong and resistant to pain. A single officer or pair of officers may be physically unable to restrain such a person. If officers are prohibited from using tools such as pepper spray, batons and tasers and their ass is getting kicked, then deadly force may be their last and only option. What an ugly news story that will make.

The use of tasers must be limited by policy and stricter polices are needed than are currently in place. Tasers should not be used on children, the elderly, pregnant women, the disabled, or persons known to have a heart defect. Repeated use should be prohibited except under strictly defined circumstances. Training should be expanded and every instance where a taser has been employed should be reviewed for adherence to policy and procedure.

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