My Blogger posts automatically cross post to my Facebook account (you have to click on View Original Post to see the entire post), and I have been engaged in a long discussion on Facebook with a sibling about my Taser post. The main issue is equity and fairness with this particular case being an example of how the Internet can get out of control on an issue, to the point that the facts are lost or thoroughly misrepresented and unfair judgements are made.
I'll address the specific Taser post first and follow up on the general concern about the facts, or lack thereof, in Internet postings.
My post hammered tasers based on a Marin County incident that occurred in June 2009. The initial pushback revolved around second guessing police officers without access to all of the facts. In my view the incident was well covered and the accompanying video was clear. Spurred on by the critique of my critique I went googling (is that a word or a Haigism?) for more facts.
I uncovered the full video from the TaserCam. You view and you decide if the officer was unreasonable. Also, some complementary reading to consider along with the video. These are two court cases that may have a bearing on the lawsuit; Bryan v McPherson (2009) and Graham v Connor (1989). Or they may not. You decide.
I also found this study on the use of Tasers, which was published before the Bryan decision. The report was archived in July 2010 by the USDOJ since the research was funded by a federal grant. The study supports the use of Tasers and makes three very important points, which apply to my original post:
First, policies governing the use of Tasers are uneven when viewed at the macro level (i.e. nationwide):
According to the survey results, 45 percent of agencies allow for the use of OC spray to overcome passive resistance (suspect sits down and refuses to comply with police commands), while another 20-30 percent of agencies authorize the use of a CED under these circumstances. When resistance increases to the typical defensive level (suspect tenses and pulls against officer’s attempt at handcuffing), 82 percent of agencies authorize OC spray and about 60 percent allow for the use of a CED. Once the suspect’s resistance level becomes threatening or assaultive, CED authorization increases to about 70 percent, while OC spray remains at about 85 percent.
In my post I commented on "ill trained" and "immature" officers. The lack of policy consistency is worrying and leaves the usage of the devices dependent upon judicial review in order to obtain that consistency (ex. the Graham factors). This is always after the fact when the damage has been done. In addition, constitutional questions may result in differing opinions by the Federal Circuits (who don't always see eye to eye) leading to an appeal to the Supremes resulting in yet another policy change. Judicial review becomes the driver instead of a well reasoned, data driven development of policy, and training follows that lead. The appropriate use of law enforcement tools will evolve as the tools evolve, and it requires that the leadership lead and not wait for a judge's ruling. The public has to trust and have confidence in police officers. That trust and confidence is eroded with every revelation of corruption in departments, or misuse of the tools they are given to accomplish the mission, whether actual or perceived.
Second, Tasers are a valuable tool in preventing injuries while accomplishing the mission (and a policy recommendation is offered):
If injury reduction is the primary goal, then agencies that authorize OC spray and/or CEDs to overcome defensive resistance are clearly at an advantage based upon the results from the current study. Both of these less lethal weapons help prevent or minimize physical struggles that cause injury (albeit relatively minor ones) to officers and citizens. Although both cause pain, they reduce injuries, and based on the present state of the medical research, death or serious harm associated with their use is extremely rare. In that sense, CEDs and OC spray are safe, and both are similarly effective at reducing the probability for injury. Both should be authorized as possible response alternatives to defensive (muscle tensing, struggling to escape physical control, fleeing on foot) or higher levels of suspect resistance. This recommendation not only is supported by our findings and observations about injuries but is presently followed by the majority of agencies that responded to the national survey.
Third, due to their nature and popularity Tasers have a dark side - over use:
Although the injury findings suggest that the substitution of CEDs for physical control tactics may be beneficial in many cases, their ease of use and popularity among officers (recall that every CPD officer interviewed longed for a Taser) raise the specter of overuse.
The possible overuse of CEDs has several dimensions. First, CEDs can be used too often, that is, at inappropriately low levels of suspect resistance. This problem can be managed with policies, training, monitoring and accountability systems that provide clear guidance (and consequences) to officers regarding when and under what conditions CEDS should be used and when they should not be used. In addition to setting the resistance threshold appropriately – our recommendation is to use defensive resistance – good CED policies and training should require that officers evaluate the totality of the circumstances before using a CED, which would include the age, size, gender, apparent physical capabilities, and health concerns (i.e. obviously pregnant women) of suspects. In addition, CED policies and training should prohibit the use of CEDs in the presence of flammable liquids or in circumstances where falling would pose unreasonable risks to the suspect (elevated areas, adjacent to traffic, etc.). Finally, policies and training should address the use of CEDs against persons who are restrained (e.g. handcuffed or otherwise controlled) and should either prohibit such uses outright or limit them to clearly defined, aggravated circumstances.
Emphasis is mine and in addition to the recommendation regarding handcuffed individuals, the report offers specific usage recommendations on how many tasings may be appropriate. If these recommendations had been in force at the time of the Marin incident I believe it would have gone differently and we wouldn't be discussing it now. We are back again to policy and training, and I am willing to bet that the Marin Deputy Sheriff had no specific policy guidance to address what to do after handcuffing the suspect, ergo no training.
If the available guidance led him to sally forth and tase the man anyway, I suspect the county's attorney (in view of the pending lawsuit) will be reviewing court cases in search of a position that is legally defensible. I bet dinner at Roy's that he won't, or that whatever he comes up with will not cut the mustard. Check those two court cases again to see why I believe that. To be fair though, I did tell my sibling that I think the county will settle and there will be no trial. I also suspect that Marin will wind up making changes to their policy regarding the tasing of handcuffed individuals.
The Wild & Wooly Internet - Sgt. Friday is not amused:
Without a doubt the Internet is the virtual back fence once inhabited in real life by the gossips of yore. (mis/dis)Information spreads at lightspeed, and the potential for morphing is unlimited. People don't go back to original sources and rely on what they read or heard elsewhere. We get bits and pieces of information, often spun to meet someone's agenda. We also get outright lies, which I personally have been subject to. It has ever been so, but the Internet speeds up the process and makes it difficult to stop the train wreck that often ensues. I try to avoid getting caught up in the crowd and generally am successful (or I think I have been). All the same, the criticism leveled at me is valid on its face in terms of the overall issue of getting the facts or risking foot in mouth syndrome (cybernetically speaking). In the issue at hand, I think the available facts are solid enough to withstand review, criticism and discussion.
The burden is the same whether you are raising the flag, or critiquing the flag raiser. Everyone is entitled to their opinion, but the facts are what they are once stripped of an individual's perceptions of what occurred. There will be as many perceptions and POVs as there are observers and witnesses. We are human, fallible, and prone to making mistakes. The organizations we work with and for are subject to those foibles too. Just because you wear a uniform, occupy a leadership position, are a revered icon of the community, etc. and so forth, does not exempt you from questions, criticism and judgement of your actions. In fact, if you occupy a position of public trust you should expect to be questioned and criticised. The public has a right to expect more from those in whom they have placed their trust to act on society's behalf. This does not mean people should feel free to libel or slander (and there are laws covering both), but those of us on the receiving end should heed Truman's axioms about where the buck stops, along with heat and kitchens.