James Craig, of “I’m a Phoenix fame,” heads up the 1000 member Cincinnati police department. While that number of officers is slightly more than the number needed to change a New York light bulb, it’s still a big city police department, which makes James Craig’s announcement matter, as he’s the first top cop to admit the obvious: Tasers sometimes kill people.
From Cincinnati.com :
In light of a recently released scientific study that shows the electronic Taser stun guns can cause cardiac arrest and death, the leader of Greater Cincinnati and Northern Kentucky’s largest police force announced today that the findings concern him and changes are coming to the department’s policy regarding the devices.
Cincinnati Police Chief James Craig said the changes should come in about a month. Those could include altering where officers direct the Taser’s prongs on a suspect’s body, perhaps at the back as opposed to the front, Craig said.
Every silver lining has its cloud, of course, so while Craig acknowledges that non-lethal means occasionally lethal, and that there is presumptive connection between shooting people in the chest and cardiac arrest, he solution is to shoot people in the back?
One might wonder if he has considered why, praytell, the back of a person who needs shooting would be facing the cop. But it’s possible that he didn’t study anatomy at the University of Phoenix, and remains confused as to which direction the person in need of Tasering is facing when his actions are so threatening as to demand the use of force against him.
“I am concerned about it because, like most police chiefs, I am a big supporter of the tool. We know that the tool has saved lives,” Craig told reporters in a media briefing at Cincinnati police headquarters in the West End. “We know it’s minimizing injuries to both police officers and suspects. Based on this report we are looking at our existing policy. We will be making some revisions.”
He said he will not pull Tasers from officers’ belts, and this is not the first time the device’s policy has been revised.
“We are not going to eliminate the use of Taser. We just want to make sure we are doing it within what this evidence-based report is suggesting,” he said. “I think that it is suggesting – the key point – is elevated heart rate and the taser coming in contact close proximity to the heart if someone has an elevated heart rate. Usually when we have contact with suspects, it’s pretty clear their heart rate is elevated.
That’s pretty darned likely, as is the possibility that they are using drugs or in less than perfect health, all characteristics of the sort of folks who end up on the business end of a Taser, and all characteristics of the sort of people who die when tased.
While Craig’s embracing evidence-based thought is a novel approach for a police department, and one that should be (and is) applauded, there remains a question as to what, exactly, he plans to do to reduce the likelihood of people being killed by “non-lethal force” for calling cops bad names. The “tase-’em-in-the-back” policy has some inherent problems, the least of which is the laws of physics. What about the “why-tase-’em-at-all” question?
Now that Chief Craig has openly acknowledged what everyone not on the Taser International payroll has long known to be the case, that Tasers aren’t always less-than-lethal, the next logical step is control their use as the tool of first resort to prevent a cop from having to spend a few minutes talking a defendant off the ledge rather than tasing anyone who backtalks, questions or doesn’t comply fast enough (especially if they happen to be deaf, blind or intellectually or mentally impaired).
At what point will a big city police chief decide that painful and potentially deadly force should not be used except to meet force and prevent injury?
Since 2001, more than 500 people have died following Taser stuns according to Amnesty International, which said in February that stricter guidelines for Taser use were “imperative.”
There is no doubt that Tasers have saved lives, both cop and non-cop, when there was justification for the use of force, and getting tased beat the hell out of a bullet from a Glock. The problem isn’t that they haven’t served as a valued tool, but that the use of Tasers as an expedient means of shutting down a recalcitrant person who poses no threat to anybody for the convenience of a police officer remains largely uncontrolled.
The idea of praising James Craig for acknowledging that Tasers can kill seems incredibly banal at this point. It’s not that empirical evidence isn’t a good thing, but all those dead bodies send a message of their own, despite Taser International’s explanation that it just must have been their time, and had nothing to do with getting tased.
If someone threatens a cop, or anyone else, with physical harm, their chances of surviving a Taser over a bullet, or even a half dozen cops with clubs beating them until their clubs break, suggests that the weapon should remain on the utility belt. It is a useful device, and one that benefits everyone involved when used properly.
Maybe avoiding the chest is a great idea to reduce the risk of killing someone. Maybe avoiding the use of weapons, of force, altogether when there is no reason for any force to be used, is a better idea. Just because there’s a Taser on their belt doesn’t mean they have to use it whenever it’s convenient. And if they don’t use it without reason, that’s one less person who won’t die.