Wednesday, December 30, 2009

The Temptation to Optimism

I know it's hard to believe, everything in the blog being so cheerful and all, but I actually tend to think that everything's going down the drain at an accelerating rate. It's pretty much an article of faith with me. But, every now and then, I see something that tempts me to hope:
A federal appeals court this week ruled that a California police officer can be held liable for injuries suffered by an unarmed man he Tasered during a traffic stop. The decision, if allowed to stand, would set a rigorous legal precedent for when police are permitted to use the weapons and would force some law enforcement agencies throughout the state -- and presumably the nation -- to tighten their policies governing Taser use, experts said.

Michael Gennaco, an expert in police conduct issues who has conducted internal reviews of Taser use for the Los Angeles County Sheriff's Department and other agencies, said the ruling by the U.S. 9th Circuit Court of Appeals prohibits officers from deploying Tasers in a host of scenarios and largely limits their use to situations in which a person poses an obvious danger.

"This decision talks about the need for an immediate threat. . . . Some departments allow Tasers in cases of passive resistance, such as protesters who won't move," he said. Tasering for "passive resistance is out the door now with this decision. Even resistance by tensing or bracing may not qualify."

[ ... ]

The judges, for example, said Tasers should be considered a more serious use of force than pepper spray -- a distinction that runs counter to policies used by most law enforcement agencies in California and elsewhere, according to Greg Meyer, a retired Los Angeles Police Department captain and consultant on use-of-force issues.

The ruling does not appear to affect the LAPD, which has a relatively strict policy on Taser use. Gennaco said that the same is more or less true of the Sheriff's Department, but that he would discuss with Sheriff Lee Baca the possible need for "tweaking" the policy and training.

The Orange County Sheriff's Department seems more likely to be affected. Spokesman John McDonald said the department's policy allows officers to fire Tasers at people who try to flee an encounter with police or who refuse, for example, to comply with an officer's order to lie down during an arrest. Those scenarios appear to be prohibited under the court's ruling.

"It sounds like this court is attempting to raise the bar for nonlethal use of force," Meyer said.
A court, I think, is not who should be raising that bar; but I'm glad someone's interested in raising it. Anyone who reads Will Grigg's excellent (but infuriating) blog, Pro Libertate, already knows that the predictable result of putting a not-usually-lethal torture device in the hands of American thug-cops has occurred: they just love handing out summary punishments, here and there, to anyone who annoys them. And they are getting easier to annoy all the time.

Anyway: get rid of Tasers. All of them. The sooner, the better. And shrink the police departments, too. Yeah, sure, like that's going to happen anytime soon.


Anonymous said...

Now there's reasonable, well thought out statement, "Get rid of Tasers...shrink the police departments." I'll admit there are a few untrained or ill-trained cops out there who are using the Taser inappropriately. However, they are an insignificant number when compared with the overall sucessful uses of the Taser across the country. Nevertheless, those few officers need to be dealt with through better training, administrative or criminal sanctions. Rather than throw the baby out with the bath water, why not establish statewide standards for the appropriate use of the Taser? When used properly, the Taser is typically the last less-lethal weapon used prior to a firearm. Without the Taser option you will see an increase in shootings. The side effects of Taser usage are minimal when compared to the damage caused by a bullet. And for all the claimed deaths associated with the Taser, in all but one the suspect was under the influence of drugs/alcohol or had a pre-existing medical condition unknown to the officer. If the option of a Taser is taken away from law enforcement the results will be numerous deaths that could have been avoided. The ultimate answer is a non-lethal device that guarantees stopping any individual up to a range of 50 feet that has no side effects. Until that weapon is designed and proven in the field, the Taser is currently the best option short of lethal force. As for shrinking police departments.....most are at or attempting to meet their authorized staffing levels, at least here in California. I suppose there are some that are bloated and could be more efficient. In any case, it sounds like you could benefit from a ride-along to see what actually occurs in the field. It's easy to bag on cops but when someone waves a knife in your face or fires a round at you, who else are you going to call that will deal with the situation? I'm with LASD and would be happy to arrange a ride at a station of your choosing....

Jim Wetzel said...

Yes, yes, I'm always hearing about how most of the cops are decent, there's just a few bad ones, etc. All I can say is, maybe all you silent-majority good cops should get rid of the bad ones, instead of closing ranks with them against the occupied population (you know, the rest of us). Keep the solidarity with the bad boys, and you can share their reputation.

I have no idea who or what "LASD" is, but it sounds like a cop shop. No thanks on the ride. I'd just as soon spend as little time around cops as possible.

Anonymous said...

@Jim This is a ray of hope in restraining the police state, but somehow it doesn't make me any more optimistic.

@anonymous As someone whose brother is a retired state police sergeant, I have to disagree. The vast majority of confrontations that threaten cops involve the underground drug trade. So I think the ultimate answer is to legalize drugs and call a cease-fire in that particular war, not turn "peace officers" into para-military organizations. Check out LEAP: