Thursday, July 14, 2011

Did an 82-year-old man really need to be tasered?

Tasermania is the new fad sweeping the English countryside these days.

According to the BBC, on June 28, 2011, police were called out to a disturbance. An 82-year-old man (whom the English press refers to as an "OAP" - old age pensioner) was arrested for possession of an offensive weapon and for criminal mischief. Now I have no idea what pissed off an 82-year-old man enough for him to vandalize someone's car - but I'm guessing it was pretty bad.

But then the story gets more bizarre as an officer pulled out his taser and "discharged" it. The 82-year-old man was taken to the hospital (or, as they say across the pond, "to hospital"), where he stayed for several days, complaining of pain.

The Independent Police Complaints Commission (IPCC) is looking into whether the use of the taser was either appropriate or proportionate given the circumstances.

What would possess a police officer to unleash 50,000 volts of electricity into the body of an 82-year-old man? What "offensive weapon" could this man have been carrying to justify shooting him with a taser?

Scott Greenfield regularly points out that the first objective for any police officer is to make it home safely at the end of his shift. That objective sometimes causes officers to overreact to a situation and see it as more dangerous that it really is.

We can assume that the old man was not packing heat because he wasn't shot. I think it's also safe to assume that the old man wasn't threatening an officer with his "offensive weapon" because, once again, he wasn't shot. This would seem most likely to be a situation in which an officer tells someone to drop whatever's in his hands and drop to the ground; but the object of the officer's attention doesn't heed the command or doesn't move fast enough to satisfy the officer.

If an officer has to choose between using his gun or a billy club, chances are he will use his gun because it enables him to take command of the situation from a safer position. If a suspect has a knife or a pipe, moving in with the club exposes an officer to the risk of injury - but using a gun allows the officer to stay out of the line of fire. The taser gives the officer a third option - now he can stay at a distance and still bring a suspect to his knees without killing him.

Thus, an officer becomes more likely to rely on his taser as a first resort rather than as a last resort.

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