Cincinnati Police Chief Says Tasers Can Kill

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 :

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.

5 thoughts on “Cincinnati Police Chief Says Tasers Can Kill

  1. Thomas R. Griffith

    Sir, “500” seriously? That’s unacceptable but yet it seems to be. Remember the old saying(s) “guns don’t kill it’s the human touching the trigger” & “it’s not the ‘volts’ that kill – it’s the ‘amps’!” Well, it seems that an electrician could dial down the volts to an area beneath any measureable amount of amperage and train for ass and crotch shots only. Maybe color coded service weapons both with pre-recorded messages announcing in English, Spanish & or Ubonicks, that you have three seconds to comply in order to avoid being shot in the legs when a finger is inserted in the Red death hole. Or that an electrical probe is aiming at your nuts. Or, color coded ammo clips / speed loaders, one Hollow Point FMJ for killing (Red) & one composite material for stunning (Yellow). No that’s too easy / hard due to color blindness, stupidity & all other forms of excuses.

    Hmm. It’s 2012 and we have 500 human victims and untold scores of their pets / animals (not including the ones tested on in shelters and on the side of the road). Simply announcing they can kill and not doing anything to prevent and not mentioning that it takes a human to deploy them vs. talking them in to complying is half-assed at best but it started a ball rolling. As we pray for a recall to dial down, maybe a few of us will call a Senator or two that isn’t married to a lobbyist to remind them about the pile of “500” humans and growing. Thanks.

  2. steve magas

    In Russo v. Cincinnati the 6th Circuit first mentioned the “Taser” – back in 1992. It was a new toy back then- and kept in the trunk. I was co-counsel on that case – the facts alone read like a bad Stevie King novel, but the cops in that case chose to use the Taser like a cattle prod on a paranoid schizophrenic walk-away from a psych hospital who, oddly enough, thought folks were out to get him and didn’t want to go back… he didn’t – he was Tasered 6 or 8x and shot 22x by the 3 cops who were called to take him back. In that case, the Taser was used for behavior modification purposes [“Drop the knife”.. Buzzzzzzz… “Drop the knife” Buzzzzzzz] and while there were “policies” and some minimal training about Taser use, Barricaded Persons and the hazards of Tasering psychotic patients, all of that went out the window when they decided to break this fellow’s door down to return him the psych hospital… the point is that in the past 20 years we have learned that cops will use the tools they are given – and will use the effective tools first, regardless of the “rules” or hierarchy of use … in the Russo case, they put themselves into a position where shooting the guy was an option, breaking the door down to confront him because the Sgt thought he might kill himself – too often in Taser cases gone awry, it is because of lazy police work -Courts need to recognize that Tasers are NOT pepper sprays and batons and need to require a higher showing than “I’m too tired to chase this guy around” before permitting their usage.

    In my second Taser case, my client was “lucky” – he’s the only Taser victim in history, so far as I am aware, to be lucky enough to be wearing a bike helmet when his head slammed into the pavement after being [unlawfully] Tasered – the shots they gave him after he was handcuffed didn’t really count…

  3. SHG

    I love a story with a happy ending. 

    One of the things that is always amusing is when cops tase somebody riding a bike and are shocked, SHOCKED!, that they hit the ground hard afterward. It never seems to dawn on them that they’re gonna fall. But at least your guy was wearing his helmet, which means nothing could possibly go wrong.

  4. steve magas

    Actually my guy had gotten off the bike and was using the bike as a shield to keep Cop A from whacking him with a baton after Taser# 1 failed to “hit” – Cop B got him from behind with Taser #2… and gave him a few jolts while he was on the ground and handcuffed, just to make sure he got the point…

    However, in Pensacola FL cops drove after a “suspicious” kid on a bike, firing the Taser from the car – they then completed the “stop” when they ran the kid over with their car and killed him…

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