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.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.
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."
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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.
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.