Home » » Taser: An officer’s weapon of choice-Cbs +June 2011-South Africa: Will Introducing Taser Guns Reduce Killings By the Police Service?-All Africa

Taser: An officer’s weapon of choice-Cbs +June 2011-South Africa: Will Introducing Taser Guns Reduce Killings By the Police Service?-All Africa

(CBS News) The Taser sounds like the perfect law enforcement tool. Simple, effective and generally safe, it allows officers to subdue a suspect using electricity rather than resorting to blunt or deadly force. But a recent study found that some officers may be too quick to use the popular stun guns when conventional procedures would suffice. As David Martin reports, there’s growing concern that Tasers may be inflicting unnecessary pain and, in rare cases, lead to death.
The following is a script of “Taser” which aired on Nov. 13, 2011. David Martin is correspondent, Mary Walsh, producer.
The hottest thing in police work these days is the Taser, a device which sends painful jolts of electricity into the human body, throwing muscles into uncontrollable spasms. Police see it as a whole new way of controlling people without injuring either themselves or the suspect.
Frequently the mere sight of a Taser will convince a criminal to give up without a fight. It is so effective police are sometimes too quick to use it, subjecting people to excruciating pain for no good reason. Some have even died after being hit by a Taser.
David Martin’s world: Tasers, ray guns & nerve gas
As National Security Correspondent for CBS News, David Martin has put himself in harm’s way many times. But David drew the line at getting zapped by a Taser
Whatever you think of Taser after watching this story you better get used to it. Taser is now used by more than 16,000 law enforcement agencies in the U.S. It all started when two brothers - Rick and Tom Smith - founded TASER International and set out to corner the stun gun market.
Tom Smith: We believe in what we’re doing. We have changed the world. Very few people can say that.
By Tom Smith’s count more than 500,000 law enforcement officers in the United States now carry Tasers. He and his brother Rick have taken what began as a backyard experiment and built it into a policeman’s weapon of choice - a device which uses electricity to subdue unruly suspects without having to resort to the blunt force of a billy club or the deadly force of a firearm.
Rick Smith: The idea of using electricity to incapacitate at its core is, frankly, a beautiful and simplistic idea. That rather than causing death or injury to someone, if we can just temporarily take away control of their body and get them under control, it’s about as nonviolent as you could get.
The Taser uses compressed gas to fire two small darts - attached to copper wires. When they pierce the skin, the electric current flows through the body seizing up the muscles and sending the suspect crashing to the ground screaming in pain.
Geoffrey Alpert: This is a whole new device. It’s a whole new way to control people.
Geoffrey Alpert has written what to-date is the definitive study of Taser use for the National Institute of Justice.
Alpert: When used properly, a Taser is a very effective tool in law enforcement.
David Martin: Well, then I guess the question is, do police use a Taser properly?
Alpert: Well, that’s the million dollar question.
Alpert’s study found instances of what he calls “lazy cop syndrome” - using the Taser instead of proper police procedures.
Martin: So, Taser is now the go-to weapon?
Alpert: Yes sir, we see very often that Taser is the, is what officers turn to very quickly now in an encounter.
Martin: Are they using them too quickly?
Alpert: Some are. Some are using them way too fast.
One of the police departments Alpert studied was Austin, Texas where a police officer was suspended for three days after this traffic stop.
[Driver: I have no idea why you are asking...
Cop: Get out of the vehicle. Take your seat belt off and step out of the vehicle.]
The driver had been going five miles over the speed limit.
[Driver: I have no idea why you're...
Cop: Get to the back of the vehicle and put your hands on the door!
Driver: Hey!
Cop shouting: Get to the back of the vehicle - (shoots Taser)]
====================================================================Published in 2011 At a time when both the killing of poli
On 15 May 2011 The Sunday Independent reported that the South African Police Service (SAPS) was considering purchasing Taser guns as an addition to police officials’ current tool set. It is easy to imagine how such “less lethal” instruments might be considered favourable in a context where the SAPS is under pressure to reduce incidents of brutality and death at the hands of police. Currently the standard weaponry available to operational police includes pepper spray, a 9mm Z88/Beretta pistol and an R5 assault rifle. Although The Sunday Independent’s article doesn’t mention the model of Taser gun being considered, all function similarly by firing dart-like electrodes at a human target in order to temporarily incapacitate them with an electric shock
Taser International and other manufacturers of stun equipment argue that their products save lives and minimise harm, backing up claims with reference to various studies. However, controversy exists around how “non-lethal” Tasers really are. Opponents claim evidence that Tasers can be harmful to otherwise healthy people, causing heart attacks for example, and that they can cause adverse reactions when people are under the influence of alcohol or drugs (as is often the case in police-civilian encounters). In 2006 the US Department of Justice called for an investigation into Taser use after it was claimed they had contributed to 184 deaths in the US alone. Earlier this month the Department released the findings of two research projects, “Police Use of Force, Tasers and Other Less-Lethal Weapons,” and “Study of Deaths Following Electro Muscular Disruption” which found that Tasers can reduce injury and that shock devices can be safer than other means of submission. Another study conducted by the Wake Forest University School of Medicine in the US found that 99.7% of a 1000 person sample shocked with Tasers suffered minor injuries, or none at all.
While correctly used shock devices may minimise harm and promote officer safety, it is clear that they can easily be misused by police officials to illegally punish or illicit information from individuals. The UN Committee Against Torture has expressed concern over various governments’ use of stun equipment such as Tazers in law enforcement. Reporting on the United States in 2006 the Committee wrote that the US should “review the use of electroshock devices, strictly regulate their use [and restrict use] to substitution of lethal weapons [such devices] should only be used in situations where greater or lethal force would otherwise have been justified, and in particular that they are never used against vulnerable persons.”
Specifically commenting on the adoption of Taser guns for use by state police in Portugal, the UN Committee wrote in 2007 that it was “deeply concerned about the recent purchase of electric ‘TaserX26′ weapons for distribution to [police]. The Committee is concerned that the use of these weapons causes severe pain constituting a form of torture, and that in some cases it may even cause death [Portugal] should consider relinquishing the use of electric ‘TaserX26′ weapons”.
The United Nations Convention against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment (UNCAT) ratified by South Africa in 1998, requires states to take measures to prevent torture in their jurisdictions. Although being a signatory to the UNCAT would not prevent the SAPS from purchasing Taser-like equipment, it would likely result in a similar admonishment from the Committee Against Torture. Considering that South Africa’s human rights record is slightly grubbier than those of the US and Portugal, the adoption of these weapons may also result in the country slipping in human rights rankings, particularly if it emerges that the Taser guns are used for purposes other than intended.
The SAPS’ reputation for the use and abuse of force is already problematic. In the 2009/10 financial year, 49% (or 920) of complaints investigated by police watchdog, the Independence Complaints Directorate (ICD) related to assault with the intent to do grievous bodily harm (GBH). In the absence of legislation defining torture in South Africa, torture-like acts are currently categorised as assault GBH. Another 17% (325) of cases against police were classified as attempted murder. Furthermore, the ICD, Amnesty International and the Chairperson of the National Assembly Portfolio Committee on Police have recently noted apparent increases in abuse of force and use of torture by some members of the SAPS, particularly in specialised units. In such a context it may seem unwise to introduce new equipment that might easily be turned into a tool of torture.
Conversely, if the SAPS were to embark on a strategic re-armament, replacing conventional firearms for officials working in low-risk environments with “less lethal” equipment such as Taser guns, this may in fact contribute to reductions in abuse and loss of firearms by police. However, while “less lethal” weaponry is often intended as a replacement for conventional firearms, it is unlikely that such a move would be made in South Africa in the near future. Considering South Africa’s rhetoric around the “war on crime” in which “fire must be fought with fire”, it is unlikely that the SAPS would replace conventional firearms with stun guns. The Star recently quoted Police National Commissioner, General Bheki Cele as calling police firearms the “serious stuff” required to counter crimes in which criminals are heavily armed. Similarly, a recently retired SAPS Provincial Commissioner used to frequently state that “police must be rough, tough and take no sh*t!”, reflecting the prevailing culture in some parts of the organisation.
Currently in the SAPS, some officials already carry their own shock emitting equipment such as hand held Taser-like devices, even though these are not officially sanctioned. In fact, many police members purchase and carry their own private unsanctioned tactical equipment, including torches, pouches, vests, gloves, boots, knives and Taser-like tools. That such devices are already being used by some members of the SAPS raises further questions about whether the organisation has the professional culture along with the necessary command, control and discipline structures to be able to ensure Taser guns are used responsibly.
In considering its potential purchase the SAPS should, among other things, conduct a detailed analysis of police-suspect encounters in which force has been used and where officials have been in danger or killed. This is necessary to understand the degree of force employed by both parties, to ascertain whether a Taser-gun might have minimised injuries to either party.
Ideally SAPS officials should be equipped with whatever tools would make them a more professional, effective and fair police service, and Taser guns may be one of these tools. However, serious questions need to be asked around who will carry the new weapons, how they will be controlled, and whether they are more likely to improve police professionalism and effectiveness, or become a liability in an organisation in which misuse of force and power is already a widespread and serious challenge.
Andrew Faull, Researcher, Crime and Justice Programme, ISS Pretoria Office
Copyright © 2011 Institute for Security Studies. All rights reserved. Distributed by AllAfrica Global Media (allAfrica.com).

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