WORTH RE-POSTING: State Attorney General Paula Dow has finally given police officers in New Jersey the authority to use Tasers as a “realistic” alternative to deadly force – provided the weapons have digital video cameras attached that record every time a shot is fired.
“If new devices become available in the future that meet the criteria, they can be submitted for testing and possible addition to the authorized list,” she wrote.The state now joins all 49 others in arming its law enforcement officers with “conducted energy devices” that cause “neuromuscular incapacitation,” with involuntary muscle contractions, according to Taser International.
Once the jolt subsides and their muscular control returns, most subjects will comply — just so they don’t get zapped again.
It’s NOT about pain — although there is a Drive Stun mode for extreme circumstances, according to Taser International. In that case, the officer presses the device against the subject’s body, with the jolt sustained for as long as period as is needed to get someone to comply. It’s commonly known as “dry tasing”, “contact tasing” — and it is not used often. Police ordinarily opt for the non-contact firing.
New Jersey police have virtually begged for the weapons for years as an alternative in dangerous situations. Although they do their jobs without complaint, no officer wants to shoot a mad, deranged or unreasonable person, no matter the circumstance.
Anne Milgram, the state’s top cop in 2009, let police in the state use the guns only on armed, emotionally disturbed people. But that was wrong on so many counts, prompting enough reasoned opposition from police chiefs for her to revise the rules.
Now, the criteria is: a threat of death or serious injury to the officer or anyone nearby. That includes an attacker who is already restrained or fleeing.
More than 75,000 lives have been saved and officer injuries have dropped by 76% since police nationwide began using Tasers, the Police Executive Research Forum announced in a 2009 study.
To make it easier for agencies to head off opponents, Taser invented “Axon,” the video system that gives authorities a view of what an officer is pointing at when an incident occurs.
Interestingly, Taser contends, the video camera “has an effect on the conduct of suspects and officers alike.”
“From a liability standpoint, the video you capture often saves [police] against claims down the road,” the manufacturer says.
The call for stun guns has been heard from New Jersey law enforcers for years, usually after a frustrating situation.
A little over five years ago, a father came at a group of officers in Wayne waving a large kitchen knife. Despite their insistence that he stop, he kept coming. He was killed after being struck with several .45-caliber rounds.
These are not only nightmares for police but unnecessary outcomes. In every other state, officers have faced similar situations, only to reach for a non-lethal weapon, eliminate the threat and keep the situation from turning to tragedy.
North Dakota, Wyoming and other politically conservative states for years have been using the handheld weapons, which deliver 50,000 volts of electricity, temporarily paralyzing the target. The city of New York, as well as some of its counterparts in Florida and California, have long supplied each and every street officer with one.
All New Jersey officers have had are batons and pepper spray. Next step: bullets.
In fact, state police in 2000 dictated that ANY projectile from a firearm was considered deadly force, “including less lethal means such as bean bag ammunition or rubber pellets.”
Pretty much meant the same situation that required a handgun.
According to a release from Dow’s office, she has “worked with academy directors and other experts to develop and obtain approval from the Police Training Commission for a training course. All officers who will carry the devices must complete the course, which includes instruction on recognizing mental illness and dealing with emotionally disturbed persons.”
“The new policy continues to restrict use of stun guns, for the most part, to situations where an officer seeks to prevent a suspect from causing death or serious bodily injury to an officer, to another person, or to himself or herself. Law enforcement officers may not use them against a person who is only offering passive resistance to commands.
“At the same time, the new policy eliminates restrictions in the prior policy that, as a practical matter, would frequently have prevented officers from using stun guns as an alternative to deadly force during a swiftly unfolding crisis. The prior policy was so restrictive that, in some instances, it prohibited the use of a stun gun in situations where an officer could use lethal force.”
Less-lethal devices emerged in the 1970s as a recourse to unavoidable police shootings. As with anything involving peace officers trying to do their jobs, it suffered a backlash from those who said the weapons could be abused.
The idea is to aim at the stomach or lower body. In those instances where someone was accidentally struck in the head, detractors raised the proverbial hue and cry.
Amnesty International, for instance, has called Tasers “torture guns.” It cites medical studies that show people who are agitated or full of drugs are more succeptible to heart failure — which could be triggered by a jolt.
The use of stun guns also “raises a number of concerns for the protection of human rights,” the human rights group wrote. “Portable and easy to use, with the capacity to inflict severe pain at the push of a button … electro-shock weapons are particularly open to abuse by unscrupulous officials.”
On the flip side, Amnesty said some form of less-lethal weaponry could “decrease the risk of death or injury inherent in the use of firearms or other impact weapons such as batons,” without offering any suggestions.
The Potomac Institute, a not-for-profit public policy research institute, did its own study and found that proper oversight is the key.
“We believe that the establishment of industry-driven, government-endorsed standards will contribute significantly to better understanding of this technology,” the report said.
The video cameras would seem to answer that concern.
It took Jack Cover, a NASA researcher, five years to develop the Taser he unveiled in 1974, naming it after his childhood hero, Tom Swift (“Thomas A. Swift’s Electric Rifle”).
It originally used gunpowder as its propellant, which led the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms to classify it as a firearm in 1976.
In 1991, a Taser supplied by Tasertron to the Los Angeles Police Department failed to subdue Rodney King. Its lack of effectiveness was blamed on a faulty battery.
Taser International CEO Patrick Smith said the catalyst for developing the device was the shooting deaths of two friends from high school by a “guy with a legally licensed gun who lost his temper.”
In 1993, Smith and his brother worked with Cover to develop a safer “non-firearm TASER electronic control device.” The ATF did not brand it a firearm, and the company in 1999 introduced an “ergonomically handgun-shaped device called the ADVANCED TASER M-series systems,” which used “neuromuscular incapacitation (NMI) technology.”
The x26 arrived in May 2003, using “Shaped Pulse Technology.”