I am writing to voice my disagreement with the Oct. 25 column “Stun guns are dangerous alternatives” by Katie Nelson. I found her arguments to be very short on fact and generally poorly researched.
First of all, she contends that Tasers have been either an attributing factor in or the direct cause of hundreds of deaths in the “past few years.” I would like to know what time frame “the past few years” consists of. In doing a little research of my own I found a study put out by Taser International conducted in 2002 which looked at 2,050 field applications of its M26 Taser. Granted, I realize that a study put out by the company which produces the weapons may not be the most unbiased source, but the hard evidence which is presented is hard to ignore. In the 1,888 instances in which offender injuries were recorded, the study reports that there were a mere 23 moderate and 13 severe injuries. These 36 injuries account for a less than 2 percent offender injury rate, one that is by no means out of line for any police use of force. Possibly even more importantly, the study reports that there was less than a 0.5 percent officer injury rate when Tasers were used.
The second part of Nelson’s article I take issue with involves her three “shocking cases” of Taser misuse. I find it interesting that she is able to summarize three undoubtedly complex police encounters in one sentence each. I am not trying to insinuate that there are never misuses of force by police officers, but I do not agree with Nelson’s choice to take three cases and use only the facts which directly help her argument while overlooking the many other factors which certainly played a role in each officer’s decision to use his or her Taser on the offenders in question.
The final part of the column which I find to be unsatisfactory is the portion in which the author states that Taser use needs to be evaluated more thoroughly and that “further training needs to be given so that unarmed civilians are not involved in senseless abuse.” I agree that Taser use needs to be more thoroughly evaluated, but I challenge Nelson to find a better way to evaluate its effectiveness than to field test it. Not all officers carry Tasers in any jurisdiction that I know of, and the officers who do carry them all go through extensive training and are exposed to a Taser’s effects firsthand before they are certified to carry them. I think that eventually all officers will be able to add this valuable tool to their belt, but at this time departments are proceeding carefully and studying the effects of Tasers before approving them for entire police forces. In regard to the second assertion, I find Nelson’s comments off-based and insensitive. To say that officers need “more training” to make sure that unarmed civilians are not harmed is ludicrous. Police officers go through extensive training not only when they are in the academy, but also periodically throughout their careers to ensure that they are able to correctly handle each and every situation that is thrown at them. I also think that to even hint that officers are out to hurt “unarmed civilians” is ridiculous. There is not a police officer in this world who would hurt an innocent civilian on purpose, and Nelson should be ashamed of herself to even think otherwise.
In my opinion, people like Nelson need to spend a few days in the shoes of a police officer. It is easy to look at the situations they are in each and every day after they happen and criticize their behavior, but it is completely another to be thrown into those same situations and be expected to not make any mistakes. In Minneapolis alone there are about 800 men and women who put their lives on the line each and every day in order to ensure that the civilians they are sworn to protect are safe. I think that it is about time that those who are overly critical of the police begin to realize this and be thankful for the men and women in blue.
Joel Pucely is a University student. Please send comments to [email protected]