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June 21, 2013

The Taser, savior of law enforcement
Posted by Patrick at 07:13 AM * 108 comments

Evidently this past Sunday night, Oregon state police were so overmatched by a disoriented 11-year-old girl that they had no choice but to electrocute her.

It’s a good thing the Taser was invented, because before it came into wide use, police officers were constantly being fought to a standstill by old people, blind stroke victims, epileptic 14-year-olds, and Alzheimer’s patients. It’s tough being a cop, you know. You have so few means for taking control of a situation.

And as a commenter helpfully pointed out, who knows what crazy drugs this 11-year-old in Oregon might have been “on”? “I thought she was drugged,” the officer said. “I thought she was on bath salts, too much meth, something.” Because, as we know, the Scary Drugs invariably give 11-year-old girls the strength of ten men. Happens all the time.

What a relief that our nice police now have personal electrical torture devices on hand 24/7, so that they’re no longer constantly overwhelmed by austistic adolescents, wheelchair-bound amputees, and people in diabetic comas. Because, you know, amputees and people in comas are so difficult to manage if you can’t shoot 50,000 volts directly into their bodies. They’re probably on PCP!

Comments on The Taser, savior of law enforcement:
#1 ::: Kip W ::: (view all by) ::: June 21, 2013, 08:06 AM:

How can a thing like this ever be justified?

Easy! Just read the newspaper web sites, and following this story, we will see elaborate and doubtless sound justifications from many quaint residents of Main Street, U.S.A., explaining in no unpatronizing tones that there are bad people in the world, and (some steps missing here but it's all good), and therefore, they would gladly sacrifice any number of other people's daughters for that all-important sense of security.

As the father of such an eleven-year-old girl, it's nice to know that, if she's ever lost or in trouble, there are big men standing by to do her whatever harm is necessary to preserve their own safety from her tiny little arms and legs. Or worse, from shouting at them.

#2 ::: Lila ::: (view all by) ::: June 21, 2013, 09:19 AM:

I agree completely, Patrick, but feel compelled to point out that without Tasers, sometimes the police use bullets.

Excessive force is wrong. Excessive deadly force is worse.

There do exist means for dealing with out-of-control, unpredictable people without either option. To their credit, my local police force learned from the death linked above, and have since managed similar situations without serious harm to the arrestee. Including the guy who had just nearly-fatally stabbed a police officer.

#3 ::: Xopher Halftongue ::: (view all by) ::: June 21, 2013, 09:27 AM:

Lila, we can lessen both if the cops keep their tasers, but are subjected to scrutiny when they use them, as they are now with deadly weapons. It should be an alternative to deadly force, not something they use to save themselves a bruise or two.

Shorter: Police should use tasers when their only other alternative is deadly force. Any other use should be cause for discipline.

#4 ::: Lee ::: (view all by) ::: June 21, 2013, 09:55 AM:

Xopher, #3: Exactly. The taser is a potentially-lethal weapon (especially when used repeatedly) and its use should be subject to the same kind of internal examination that the use of a gun is.

Unfortunately, it seems that a lot of police departments have gone to tasers specifically because the use of them is not a matter for internal examination. They're a "home free" for the lazy cop.

#5 ::: Rikibeth ::: (view all by) ::: June 21, 2013, 10:10 AM:

For "Taser" vs. "bullets", substitute "stunner" and "nerve disruptor"?

#6 ::: Teka Lynn ::: (view all by) ::: June 21, 2013, 10:12 AM:

"She is now safe with her family."

From trigger-happy police officers?

#7 ::: Chaomancer ::: (view all by) ::: June 21, 2013, 10:26 AM:

"Officials also say she will not be charged with any crimes because she wasn’t aware of her surroundings."

How... magnanimous of them.

#8 ::: Wyn ::: (view all by) ::: June 21, 2013, 10:27 AM:

“I thought she was on bath salts"? Did epsom salts become a mind-altering drug, or has aromatherapy been deemed a public danger? Next up: roving gangs of teenaged girls high on green tea and ginseng bath salts.

#9 ::: Xopher Halftongue ::: (view all by) ::: June 21, 2013, 10:33 AM:

Wyn, there's a street drug nicknamed "bath salts," presumably because of its appearance. Allegedly causes violent psychotic breaks in some people (I'm dubious myself).

#10 ::: Terry Karney ::: (view all by) ::: June 21, 2013, 10:37 AM:

Lila: The thing is that "Tasers" have come to be seen as tools of compliance, not penultimate resorts.

Wyn: "Bath salts" refers to a blend of stuff meant to be used as addition to a bath, but smoked/snorted as a means of altering one's mental state. Apparently they have a high rate of hallucinatory bad reaction. As a result (as with PCP in the '80s) the possibility of them is being used to justify any number of overreactions (often fatal) on the part of police.

#11 ::: Narmitaj ::: (view all by) ::: June 21, 2013, 10:39 AM:

“I thought she was drugged,” the officer said.

According to the linked article it seems it was Bednar, a member of the public who found the girl and called the police, who said that, not the police.

#12 ::: Matt Freedman ::: (view all by) ::: June 21, 2013, 10:46 AM:

I hate to be pedantic, but I think "electrocuted" is the wrong word choice here because the girl didn't die...right?

#13 ::: Rikibeth ::: (view all by) ::: June 21, 2013, 10:59 AM:

"Bath salts" were initially blamed for the behavior of the face-eating attack in Miami a while back that triggered any number of fanciful "the zombie uprising has begun" reactions, but it was later found that the perpetrator didn't have any in his system. The later findings weren't nearly as widely reported or noticed.

#14 ::: Josh Jasper ::: (view all by) ::: June 21, 2013, 11:01 AM:

In a case like this, it's safe to conclude that the police did NOT think she was drugged. They thought she was being unruly, and that a quick tazing should cause enough pain to get her to be compliant.

They're lying. If you're not at least suspicious, you don't know cops. They lie because they know it's safe.

#15 ::: Xopher Halftongue ::: (view all by) ::: June 21, 2013, 11:08 AM:

Matt, don't mistake the origin of a word for its current meaning. Yes, it's a portmanteau of 'electric' and 'execute', but these days it's used to mean any severe electrical shock.

I hate the fact that the meaning has changed that way, because I keep having my heart stop (metaphorically) when I hear someone was electrocuted, only to find out that they're recovering.

Linguistic change sucks when it happens in your lifetime, but...well, I'm going down to the shore to hold back the tide, wanna join me?

#16 ::: Terry Karney ::: (view all by) ::: June 21, 2013, 11:13 AM:

Matt/Xopher: I've always known it to be used to mean, "got a huge shock", not always to the point of death.

#17 ::: Serge Broom ::: (view all by) ::: June 21, 2013, 11:15 AM:

Bath salts?

#18 ::: Xopher Halftongue ::: (view all by) ::: June 21, 2013, 11:23 AM:

Terry, when I was a child it only meant to the point of death. Originally it was only for deliberate actions as capital punishment.

Words change meaning. Sometimes they change fast. In this case we didn't have a convenient word for "deliver a severe, but not quite lethal electric shock," and 'electrocute' expanded in meaning to fill the gap.

#19 ::: Fragano Ledgister ::: (view all by) ::: June 21, 2013, 11:38 AM:

Just like the need to pump large numbers of bullets into unarmed African men whose blackness was obviously threatening. The police are so obviously overwhelmed.

#20 ::: Fragano Ledgister ::: (view all by) ::: June 21, 2013, 11:38 AM:

Serge #17:

#21 ::: SamChevre ::: (view all by) ::: June 21, 2013, 11:42 AM:

Xopher @ 15
I'm definitely one of Knut's acolytes, but managed to mostly miss the lesson.

In my reading, using "electrocute" to mean any severe electrical shock was popularized by anti-Taser campaigners; I'd really like to see examples of that use prior to 2002 (when Taser use first became controversial.)

I object with vigor to using words that have a strongly emotion-loaded meaning (electrocute, rape, genocide) for related-but-very-much-less-severe actions; it's a manipulation technique.

#22 ::: Xopher Halftongue ::: (view all by) ::: June 21, 2013, 11:44 AM:

Well, I'm convinced I saw it before then. In fact I think I remember it from the 1980s. But I don't have the energy or skill to find it in print (and as you know, spoken usage for something like this precedes written usage by several years).

#23 ::: TexAnne ::: (view all by) ::: June 21, 2013, 11:52 AM:

Sam, 21: Until this thread, I thought "electrocution" meant "any severe electrical shock, possibly involving death." I had no idea it came from "electric execution." Were this Twitter, I would conclude with a quick #grossedoutnow.

#24 ::: Xopher Halftongue ::: (view all by) ::: June 21, 2013, 11:55 AM:

It was invented along with the electric chair, IIRC, TexAnne. Because Westinghouse made the first one, Thomas Edison wanted to call the process "Westinghousing."

#25 ::: Carrie S. ::: (view all by) ::: June 21, 2013, 11:57 AM:

My mental definition of electrocution requires death, but not intentional death; I could say that someone struck by lightning or who had touched an electric fence had been "electrocuted" as long as they didn't survive the experience.

#26 ::: Lila ::: (view all by) ::: June 21, 2013, 12:04 PM:

I'm in total agreement with the notion that Tasers should be a right-before-beating-or-shooting penultimate resort, and that their use should be subject to scrutiny similar to the scrutiny given use of firearms.

I also hope that more research will be done on the proper prevention and handling of violent people who may have physical or mental impairments (e.g. in hospital emergency departments); this is neither a new nor a rare problem, and it's past time we figured out better ways to address it. (Hint: giving nurses Tasers is NOT a good plan.)

#27 ::: mjfgates ::: (view all by) ::: June 21, 2013, 12:38 PM:

My adoptive nephew, an apprentice electrician, used the word "electrocute" to describe people getting shocks that could kill, that might kill. That would have been in the early 1990s.

I have a friend who watches "Cops," so I've seen fragments of a few episodes. The most common use of tasers on that show seems to be on people who've retreated into inaccessible places-- crawlspaces, toolsheds, stuff like that. The procedure seems to be to zap 'em and drag 'em out while they're still twitching. Basically, tasing people because the cop is impatient.

#28 ::: Bill Higgins-- Beam Jockey ::: (view all by) ::: June 21, 2013, 12:44 PM:

For readers interested in somewhat more technical coverage, in 2007 the engineering magazine IEEE Spectrum published three articles on how the Taser works that I found worthwhile at the time.

Spectrum also disclosed that the authors of two of the articles had connections to the manufacturer of Tasers.

#29 ::: Dave Harmon ::: (view all by) ::: June 21, 2013, 12:55 PM:

Slightly drifting from the topic, but Terry will might be interested in this essay from one of my local weeklies: Tortured Logic: A retired brigadier general speaks out against torture.

#30 ::: Lucy Kemnitzer ::: (view all by) ::: June 21, 2013, 12:55 PM:

I was in a doctor's office and overheard the doctor calling an episode of severe electric shock resulting in injury but not death electrocution. But Wiktionary says that is a sland and deprecated sense.
I've actually never heard the distinction insisted on before today.

Patrick, thank you for signal boosting this mess. Every week some hamless person is harmed by tasers. The police in the US are off the rails.

#31 ::: Steve Downey ::: (view all by) ::: June 21, 2013, 01:12 PM:

OED has electrocute as "To put to death by means of a powerful electric current." dating to 1889, with "To kill in any way by electricity." from 1909.

And the one that I have access to doesn't have a usage at all for just severe electric shock.

#32 ::: Xopher Halftongue ::: (view all by) ::: June 21, 2013, 01:18 PM:

Steve, what year's edition do you have?

#33 ::: Stefan Jones ::: (view all by) ::: June 21, 2013, 01:29 PM:

As an Oregon resident living 15 miles or so from I-5, I am glad the police are on guard. If this crazed tween hadn't been taken down she might have found her way to Beaverton and . . . uh . . . BATH SALTS!

#34 ::: Lydy Nickerson ::: (view all by) ::: June 21, 2013, 01:30 PM:

The other possible problem with tasering is the likelihood that cops will use a taser rather more freely than they ought, because it's not, supposedly, lethal. In cases where they would not use a gun, they may very cheerfully use a taser, figuring it doesn't really matter. So it may actually increase the amount of violence that the cops use in a routine fashion. As far as I know, this is still speculation and not substantiated by actual statistics, but it sure does mirror what we're seeing anecdotally in the news.

#35 ::: bryan ::: (view all by) ::: June 21, 2013, 01:35 PM:

"Drugs invariably give 11-year-old girls the strength of ten men"

I thought it was possession by demons did that.

#36 ::: Dave Harmon ::: (view all by) ::: June 21, 2013, 01:49 PM:

bryan #35: Drugs, demons, same difference. <sarcasm>

#37 ::: Ginger ::: (view all by) ::: June 21, 2013, 02:08 PM:

Bath salts, according to NIDA.

#38 ::: David Perry ::: (view all by) ::: June 21, 2013, 02:15 PM:

Police respond to non-compliance with "non-lethal" force as a matter of course. These absurd cases give us a fulcrum on which to set the levers trying to change that, but the weight of habit and power is mighty heavy.

#39 ::: Sandy B. ::: (view all by) ::: June 21, 2013, 02:38 PM:

The July 1906 New York Times reported on someone badly injured by electricity when a streetcar line broke and landed on them: I think "burned" was the word used. They amputated a limb in the street. (I read a week of the old Times so I could discuss "the good old days" with people. I recommend it to everyone. )

In the late 90's I think "danger of electrocution" was used in a safety meeting: mostly what I took away from that meeting was 1) concrete is conductive and 2) that black paint on overhead wires looks like an insulator, but is not.

As far as Tasering: It's the correct tool in some situations, but so is a hammer and police aren't allowed to apply those arbitrarily to suspects either.

#40 ::: albatross ::: (view all by) ::: June 21, 2013, 02:46 PM:


My strong suspicion is that the problem isn't with the technology, but with the oversight and the procedures for handling use of tasers. They're probably overused, but they've got to be easier on most people than getting bashed with a nightstick or pepper-sprayed or tackled and wrestled down by three cops, probably none too gently.

The problem is, we don't do external oversight of powerful people very well, and that extends even to police, who are mostly not very powerful people in the grand scheme of things (the president doesn't take phone calls from many Boone County, Missouri sheriff's deputies), but who are typically pretty powerful locally, both in the sense of having a lot of day-to-day power to hassle people, and in the sense of knowing where the local bodies are buried. It seems like most places, oversight of the police is done by the police, and (as with Jim's comment on the open thread about the FBI), having people investigate themselves pretty much always results in a "we did everything right, and probably need a raise and a promotion across the board" sort of result.

Somehow, we need to figure out how to get the police, spies, regulators, etc., in the whole country to understand that they're working for us. Mistreating us or ignoring our interests in favor of someone more important needs to generally work out badly, so that it happens less and less often. Instead, it seems like we've largely insulated all these groups from outside oversight with teeth. And as a result, they do more-or-less what they please, as long as they don't tangle with someone powerful enough to push back.

#41 ::: rea ::: (view all by) ::: June 21, 2013, 03:07 PM:

Tasers are lethal force, although they are not as likely to kill as, for example guns. But they would be a good thing as long as they are treated as lethal force and not used, for example, simply for compliance enforcement

#42 ::: Jeremy Leader ::: (view all by) ::: June 21, 2013, 03:26 PM:

The discussion around tasers reminds me a lot of an earlier magic non-lethal weapon popular with law enforcement in the 1980s, choke holds. Properly applied, a choke hold can often overcome a subject's resistance without doing any measurable permanent damage. Improperly applied, it can be fatal. Properly applied, sometimes by chance it will still be deadly.

The fundamental problem of law enforcement is that it's really, really hard to consistently and reliably overcome peoples' will without harming them. I suspect the only answer is to recognize that the problem of controlling offenders is by its nature violent, and if society is going to authorize the use of violence, there must be adequate supervision and oversight.

There is no technological way to provide a non-violent solution to a fundamentally violent problem. Pretending that we have such a non-violent solution just makes the situation worse, because then we skimp on the oversight.

#43 ::: Jeff R. ::: (view all by) ::: June 21, 2013, 03:43 PM:

So drugs, demons, and being pure of heart all have the same symptom here? Tough differential diagnosis.

#44 ::: albatross ::: (view all by) ::: June 21, 2013, 03:52 PM:


Tasers are nonlethal, though. Lots of people get tasered, very few die or are seriously injured, right? I mean, if you have the wrong kind of heart condition, or you're ten feet up on a fence, getting tasered might kill you, but otherwise, it's not too likely to do so.

The problem isn't that they're likely to be lethal, the problem is that they're likely to be overused because they're not lethal (so you don't have a body to explain) but they're unpleasant and a kind of lazy way out.

#45 ::: Steve Downey ::: (view all by) ::: June 21, 2013, 04:49 PM:

Xopher @ 32, It's electronic, through work, but the data is from OED 2nd Edition, version 2. Roughly 1999.

#46 ::: Caroline ::: (view all by) ::: June 21, 2013, 04:56 PM:

albatross @ 43: There are two issues here. One is the risk of death or serious injury from tasers. The other is tasers being used as quick pain-compliance devices, whether or not they cause serious harm.

Tasers are "nonlethal" in the sense that they're not intended to kill people (this is apparently the Department of Defense definition of "nonlethal"). (Source: The president of Taser International, quoted in this article.) That's not the same thing as being intended not to kill people.

In fact, there's some science to show that a taser shot to the chest, particularly when combined with a lot of adrenaline (which you'll probably have in an encounter with the police, and will almost certainly have once you feel the pain from getting tasered) -- and especially when the shock is repeated more than once -- can be pretty effective at inducing ventricular fibrillation.

The risk of lethality is probably not huge. The numbers I can find are a little over 500 deaths in the U.S. since 2001, but I don't know how many total taserings happened in that time to work out the percentage of taserings that were fatal. However, the more people who get tasered, the more total deaths there will be.

Which leads me to the second point: the rate at which police officers are tasering people, and whether it's really necessary. There are two arguments here. One argument is that tasers do have some risk of lethality, so police shouldn't subject people to that risk unless it's absolutely necessary. The second argument is that even if tasers had absolutely zero risk of killing anyone, they still cause a huge amount of pain. Police shouldn't subject people to that much pain unless absolutely necessary.

I tend to go with both/and.

#47 ::: Caroline is gnomed ::: (view all by) ::: June 21, 2013, 04:59 PM:

Would the gnomes like some dry-roasted almonds?

#48 ::: edward oleander ::: (view all by) ::: June 21, 2013, 05:13 PM:

Xopher, bath salts pretty much deserve their reputation... We're seeing their effects in the street population coming into Detox...

#49 ::: Chris ::: (view all by) ::: June 21, 2013, 05:13 PM:

The current online OED entry has:

1. trans. To put to death by means of a powerful electric current; to execute in the electric chair. (from 1889)


2. trans. To give an electric shock to; esp. (chiefly refl. or in pass.) to kill or injure by electric shock. (from 1890)

#50 ::: Xopher Halftongue ::: (view all by) ::: June 21, 2013, 05:15 PM:

Well, that would be a very old usage then. Wonder why the older OED didn't have it? Maybe they just hadn't found that 1890 reference.

#51 ::: Xopher Halftongue ::: (view all by) ::: June 21, 2013, 05:16 PM:

Where "very old" is used in reference to this conversation, of course! This isn't a case of "Americans think 100 years is a long time"!

#52 ::: rea ::: (view all by) ::: June 21, 2013, 05:21 PM:

Albatross--by your standard, guns are not lethal, either, since lots of people get shot without dying. Usually, lethal or deadly force is defined as force causing a substantial risk of death or serious bodily harm, and tasers qualify under that standard.

#53 ::: Neil W ::: (view all by) ::: June 21, 2013, 06:05 PM:

Back in the 90s when I managed to give myself an electric shock that was (obviously) non-fatal but extremely unpleasant we referred to the event as an electrocution. This included the lab supervisor I reported the incident to.

#54 ::: Bill Stewart ::: (view all by) ::: June 21, 2013, 06:26 PM:

Re: "Bath salts" (several comments)
They're not actual bath salts that turn out to have psychoactive effects; they're psychoactive drugs that are sold as "bath salts" (or sometimes "plant food", "incense", etc.) because that's a cover for selling random chemical crystals or powders that don't have to be approved by the FDA or DEA or other regulatory agencies and don't require listing specific ingredients that might not be accurate or consistent.

Over the last year or two they've replaced PCP as the standard "cop says 'the guy was acting weird and dangerous like he was high on [DRUG] so I had to shoot/taze/beat him.'" excuse. And some of them actually are seriously bad drugs.

#55 ::: chris ::: (view all by) ::: June 21, 2013, 06:58 PM:

Lots of people get tasered, very few die or are seriously injured, right?

Some die, some are seriously injured, some are neither. I don't know the exact ratios, heck, I don't even know approximate ratios. Do you? Do the police pulling the triggers? Should they?

If a police officer knew that for every ten people they tased, only nine would get back up again, would they use their taser differently?

#56 ::: Jim Macdonald ::: (view all by) ::: June 21, 2013, 09:11 PM:

I don't know about tasers, but I do know something about handguns:

Six out of seven people who are shot with a handgun in the US survive.

Part of that is due to fast and effective EMS coupled with skilled and aggressive emergency medicine.

#57 ::: Bruce E. Durocher II ::: (view all by) ::: June 21, 2013, 09:39 PM:

Xopher Halftongue: It was invented along with the electric chair, IIRC, TexAnne. Because Westinghouse made the first one, Thomas Edison wanted to call the process "Westinghousing."

A little off on this. To quote Cecil Adams, "First suggested in the 1880s as a humane alternative to hanging, the practice figured prominently in the dispute between Thomas Edison and George Westinghouse over the merits of direct vs. alternating current. Claiming the latter was too dangerous, Edison thought to prove his point graphically by equipping Sing Sing's new electric chair with one of the competition's AC generators, an application for which it proved to be admirably suited. Unfortunately, upon being presented with their first prospective victim, one William Kemmler (he had murdered his girlfriend), the executioners seriously underestimated the amount of juice required. They burned him for a mere 17 seconds, at the conclusion of which Kemmler was still twitching slightly. The current was thereupon reapplied for another 70 seconds, causing one of the electrodes to smoke. Westinghouse later commented, 'They could have done better with an ax.' Still, Kemmler could safely be said to have expired, and a new era was born."

#58 ::: erikagillian ::: (view all by) ::: June 21, 2013, 10:38 PM:

I was listening to a Clash playlist on youtube and what should come on as I'm reading this but Know Your Rights. For those of you who don't memorize Clash lyrics, the first right mentioned was the right not to be killed, murder is a crime! Unless it was done by a policeman, or an aristocrat.

In case you're wondering number two is the right to food money, providing of course you don't mind a little investigation, humiliation and if you cross your fingers, rehabilitation. And three is you have the right to free speech. As long as you're not dumb enough to actually try it.

Clash lyrics can be scarily pertinent thirty years into the future.

#59 ::: Alex R. ::: (view all by) ::: June 21, 2013, 11:31 PM:

I'm normally very hard on police brutality, and I could point to a dozen cases from memory in which cops did something stupid and brutal, but in this case I think the officer did a pretty good job. The salient facts which support this are as follows:

It was 4:00 in the morning and a child, who was naked and not responding verbally or obeying commands from an officer was walking along the 5 Freeway. At this hour cars were probably moving between 60 and 80 mph, which means that stopping distance was very poor. At those speeds we're probably talking about a minimum of 44 feet before anyone's reflexes would kick in, and no guarantee that they would do the right thing with their reflexes. Any given driver at that time of night is very likely tired, over-caffeinated, amped up, or possibly drunk. (this is after the bars and parties are done, at least where I live.) Visibility would have been poor.

(I note these facts as someone who is on call 24/7 for network repairs. I've frequently made driving errors while it was late and I was tired or had drunk too much caffeine. I don't know if I could have coped with the problem of a child running across the freeway at 4:00 am in any kind of intelligent fashion.)

Would this child have run onto the freeway when confronted with a big stranger trying to capture her? That's not something we can know for sure, but the absolute priority in this situation was to keep the kid out of traffic. The officer succeeded in doing this quickly and efficiently.

I would agree that in an ideal world he would have taken her by the hand and led her back to his car, (and hopefully she would have cooperated) but his actions were within the range of what I would describe as acceptable judgement.

#60 ::: Dave Bell ::: (view all by) ::: June 22, 2013, 01:21 AM:

Alex, the risk balance you put forward is certainly significant, but I have read the report Jim linked to, and I think you misrepresent the situation.

Key point: Bednar says he drove alongside her while he called police. He says the trooper who arrived called for her to stop, and when she didn’t respond threatened twice to taze her. After giving no response, two little red dots appeared on her back, then metal barbs.

It could have turned sour, but she wasn't an unmarked hazard. In that sort of situation I would have been running the indicators on my car in hazard mode. I would be astonished if the Police vehicle were not running its lightbar. This isn't something you cannot see at a distance.

Having said that, it could have gone out of control very quickly. And I can see how Mr. Bednar was prompted to wonder if the taser was a justifiable tool. For that matter, while the report tells us very little, apart from drugs another possible cause of the behavior is that the girl was a crime victim, or suffering from concussion (is that plausible, Jim, with no obvious injury?), while the comment thread is littered with commenters saying the child was autistic. (Is that a wild guess, or do people in the area know her?) What we know now is not what the cop thought he knew when he made his choice.

And this is part of a pattern, nationwide, of inadequately controlled use of a weapon by the Police. And it's not just tasers. Anything that is a not-gun seems to escape scrutiny.

I am not sure of the precise status of a taser in the UK, but the 1920 Firearms Act established this definition:

6.- 1
It shall not be lawful for any person without the authority of the Admiralty or the Army Council or the Air Council to manufacture, sell, purchase, carry, or have in his possession any weapon, of whatever description, designed for the discharge of any noxious liquid, gas, or other thing, or any ammunition containing or designed or adapted to contain any such noxious thing, and such a weapon is in this Act referred to as a prohibited weapon.

Details have changed, and the Police probably can be given authority now, and I expect more than a few rulings from the courts on what "other thing" might cover, but I'm pretty sure that such things as Pepper Spray and tasers are included.

Maybe that does make a difference, even if the politicians of 1920 were thinking of the recent war; of poison gas and Bolsheviks. The modern "non-lethal" weapons are defaulted to dangerous and illegal.

#61 ::: Jeremy Leader ::: (view all by) ::: June 22, 2013, 03:37 AM:

It occurs to me that in the US at present, it's probably easier to regulate tasers (and pepper spray, and probably other less-lethal weapons) than firearms. After all, the Founding Fathers didn't say anything about the electronic equipment necessary for a well-regulated militia, and I don't think there are many survivalists fantasizing about how they'd tase their way through the apocalypse.

#62 ::: Dave Harmon ::: (view all by) ::: June 22, 2013, 06:23 AM:

Dave Bell #60: A couple of follow-up articles (including comments her parents) make it clear that she was severely autistic, and in fact was supposed to be confined in a locked bedroom at that hour -- she had removed a screw that was holding the window shut.

#63 ::: Cadbury Moose ::: (view all by) ::: June 22, 2013, 06:24 AM:

Dave Bell @ #60

That is now Section 5 of the Firearms Act and specifically includes stun guns and tazers (as well as pistols (except muzzle loading) "disguised" weapons (walking stick guns), and other stuff.

This is the CPS take on the subject, which will probably get me comprehensively Gnomed for punctuation/bureaucratese:

Prohibited Weapons Defined by section 5 Firearms Act 1968 as Amended
The weapons below are subject to the mandatory minimum sentence see Mandatory Minimum Sentences section below.

Section 5(1)(a) any firearm which is so designed or adapted so that two or more missiles can be successively discharged without repeated pressure on the trigger, e.g. machine guns, burst fire weapons;
Section 5(1)(ab) any self-loading or pump-action rifled gun other than one which is chambered for .22 rim-fire, e.g. short barrelled rifles;
Section 5(1)(aba) any firearm which either has a barrel less than 30cm in length or is less than 60cm in length overall, other than an air weapon, a muzzle-loading gun or a firearm designed as signalling apparatus, e.g. handguns, revolvers;
Section 5(1)(ac) any self-loading or pump-action smooth-bore gun which is not an air weapon or chambered for .22 rim-fire cartridges and either has a barrel less than 24" in length or is less than 40" in length overall, e.g. self loading shotguns;
Section 5(1)(ad) any smooth-bore revolver gun other than one which is chambered for 9mm rim-fire cartridges or a muzzle-loading gun, e.g. Dragon;
Section 5(1)(ae) any rocket launcher, or any mortar, for projecting a stabilised missile, other than a launcher or mortar designed for line-throwing or pyrotechnic purposes or as signalling apparatus;
Section 5(1)(af) any air rifle, air gun or air pistol which uses, or is designed or adapted for use with, a self-contained gas cartridge system, e.g. Brococks;
Section 5(1)(c) any cartridge with a bullet designed to explode on or immediately before impact, any ammunition containing or designed or adapted to contain any such noxious thing as mentioned in section 5(1)(b), and, if capable of being used with a firearm of any description, any grenade, bomb (or other like missile), or rocket or shell designed to explode as aforesaid, e.g. ammunition containing explosive in the bullets or missiles;
Section 5(1)(A)(a) any firearm which is disguised as another object, e.g. pen guns, key fob guns and phone guns.
In addition the following are also prohibited but are not subject to mandatory minimum sentences:

Section 5(1)(b) any weapon of whatever description designed or adapted for the discharge of any noxious liquid gas or other thing. Generally stun guns or electric shock devices, CS gas not usually cattle prods but depends on type. Note: Parliament has provided that disguised weapons fall within the provisions for a minimum sentence and so, an offence contrary to section 5(1A) should be charged rather than an offence contrary to seciton 5(1)(b) where a stun gun is disguised as another object and also meets the requirements of section 5(A1), (R v Brereton [2012]EWCA Crim 85) ;
Section 5(1A)(b) any rocket or ammunition not falling within paragraph (c) of subsection (1) of this section which consists in or incorporates a missile designed to explode on or immediately before impact and is for military use;
Section 5(1A)(c) any launcher or other projecting apparatus not falling within paragraph (ae) of that subsection which is designed to be used with any rocket or ammunition falling within paragraph (b) above or with ammunition which would fall within that paragraph but for its being ammunition falling within paragraph (c) of that subsection;
Section 5(1A)(d) any ammunition for military use which consists in or incorporates a missile designed so that a substance contained in the missile will ignite on or immediately before impact, e.g. incendiary ammunition;
Section 5(1A)(e) any ammunition for military use which consists of, or incorporates, a missile designed, on account of its having a jacket and hard core, to penetrate armour plating, armour screening or body armour, e.g. armour piercing ammunition;
Section 5(1A)(f) any ammunition which incorporates a missile designed or adapted to expand on impact. For example expanding ammo, e.g. soft-point or hollow-point ammo;
Section 5(1A)(g) anything which is designed to be projected as a missile from any weapon and is designed to be, or has been, incorporated in -
(i) any ammunition falling within any of the preceding paragraphs; or
(ii) any ammunition which would fall within any of those paragraphs but for its being specified in subsection (1) of this section.

#64 ::: Devlin du GEnie ::: (view all by) ::: June 22, 2013, 09:55 AM:

Digby has been all over this issue for years. Tasers are used for pain, fear, and compliance. They're the equivalent of a beating and, conveniently, don't leave bruises. The occasional deaths are always blamed on the victims.

#65 ::: albatross ::: (view all by) ::: June 22, 2013, 10:36 AM:


There aren't any 100% nonlethal alternatives if you're trying to subdue someone. Nightsticks, pepper spray, and wrestling the person down are all alternatives to using a taser, but they're also all sometimes associated with death or serious injury. I'm not sure what the numbers are--my impression is that tasers are enormously less likely to kill you than bullets, and probably are in the same range of lethality as those other things, but I don't really know much about it.

There are situations where we want the police to subdue someone with force as needed, and in that case, it sure looks to me like a taser is a reasonable tool for that job--I expect it's a lot easier on the person being subdued than a nightstick or being wrestled down by two or three guys, but again, I'm far outside my expertise here.

My guess is that tasers are overused because they make subduing someone with force a lot easier and safer. And so the cops do that more often, or do it in situations where they would previously have tried to talk the guy into coming quietly or just quickly overpowered the misbehaving kid or whatever. That's why I think the problem is ultimately one of oversight--someone needs to be pushing back on the cops' decisions that maximize their convenience and safety at the cost of mistreating or endangering citizens.

#66 ::: Dave Harmon ::: (view all by) ::: June 22, 2013, 11:30 AM:

albatross #65: In fact, that issue has been previously discussed here with explicit reference to Star Trek's phasers, which introduced an impossible standard for "subduing weapons".

#67 ::: The Raven ::: (view all by) ::: June 22, 2013, 11:56 AM:

People are injured by and do die of the electrically-induced spasms of Taser hits, though. No-one seems to know exactly how many.

My impression is that at least some deaths are due to hearts stopping from extraordinary pain. Being spasmed hurts and repeated spasms hurt a lot. People who already have neurological disorders of breathing or heart are at risk. Beyond that there are the risks of uncontrolled movement: the target may fall, bite their tongue, uncontrollably hit hard objects, and so on. In extreme cases the spasms may break bones.

All of which means this is not something to be done casually, as it apparently is. Ethical policing ought not involve routinely causing pain.

#68 ::: Sandy B. ::: (view all by) ::: June 22, 2013, 12:03 PM:

By the way, the US Army preferred phrasing (in 2007) was "less-lethal". They were working on the problem of not having anything between shooting and shouting.

The Army was quite aware of the occasional tendency of (among other problems) plastic bullets to hit people in the temple and kill them.

#69 ::: Xopher Halftongue ::: (view all by) ::: June 22, 2013, 12:45 PM:

Even the use as a convenience of compliance, reprehensible as it is, isn't the worst of it. Remember "Don't tase me, bro"? That guy was complying. They were using it to torture him,

#70 ::: Xopher Halftongue ::: (view all by) ::: June 22, 2013, 12:49 PM:

What the hell? I don't know what happened there. Here's what I thought I hit Post on:

Even the use as a convenience of compliance, reprehensible as it is, isn't the worst of it. Remember "Don't tase me, bro"? That guy was complying. They were using it to torture him, for the usual reasons torture is deployed.

I'd like more torturers and fewer whistleblowers to be in prison. Does that make me unAmerican.

#71 ::: Xopher Halftongue ::: (view all by) ::: June 22, 2013, 01:32 PM:

And I still left out a question mark. Not doing so well today.

#72 ::: Alex R. ::: (view all by) ::: June 22, 2013, 03:29 PM:

I'd like more torturers and fewer whistleblowers to be in prison. Does that make me unAmerican?

Not in my book. I agree completely.

#73 ::: bryan ::: (view all by) ::: June 22, 2013, 04:10 PM:

"So drugs, demons, and being pure of heart all have the same symptom here? Tough differential diagnosis."

I'm pretty sure drugs, demons, and pure of heartness are themselves symptoms of being Pippi Longstocking - which would explain the strength of 11 men thing.

#74 ::: Nell ::: (view all by) ::: June 22, 2013, 05:21 PM:

Police have been known to torture those within their power. But in the past, they've had to do the work using their own bodies, or set up their own equipment.

Tasers put a torture device in the hands of just about every police officer, and security guard, and -- hell -- mall cop.

My view is: screw oversight. Ban these devices.

#75 ::: Terry Karney ::: (view all by) ::: June 22, 2013, 06:08 PM:

Xopher: I don't think we are so different in age that it's a real factor. I'm guessing regional variation. :)

Re terms, the Phrase in use when I was training was, "Less than lethal".

This has been an issue for years. The UCLA library come to mind, as well as the Polish man in the Airport. In a related case was the shooting death of Oscar Grant. He was in handcuffs, on his face, and being "resistant". So a BART Cop decided to tase him. He pulled out his pistol (BART had terrible standards on how Tasers are carried/issued/trained with. In theory this has been improved).

The thing is, Tasers are free violence for cops. There is damned all oversight. For most departments it's a line in the report, "Subject resisted, and I had to tase her". I've seen footage of someone being tased for asking why she had been pulled over (she was told to hand over her license, she asked what she had done. He told her to get out of the car, she asked why. He tased her).

If a cop has to hit you, there is an investigation. If the cop pulls his weapon there are questions. If a cop fires a round there is an investigation. If a cop hits someone there is an investigation.

If a cop tases you... Standard Operating Procedure.

#76 ::: Bruce Cohen (Speaker to Managers) ::: (view all by) ::: June 22, 2013, 06:37 PM:

A particular problem with cops' response to recalcitrant or non-communicative people is that many of them are mentally ill, emotionally disturbed, or cognitively challenged, and most cops have not been trained in dealing with these people, even to the extent of explaining that such people are rarely a physical threat. We've seen that quite often here in Portland, when a suspect is confronted and isn't able to talk to the cop, and the cop escalates force level on the false assumption that this means danger.

Last year, the Justice Department conducted its first investigation based solely on violent police encounters with the mentally ill, in Portland, Oregon. The agency found a “pattern or practice of unreasonable force” in nine cases, and gaps in mental health care that increased the frequency of potentially fatal police encounters. Bloomberg

And then there are the cops who escalate for insufficient or unknow reasons. In Portland in 2010 a cop shot an unarmed man in the back and killed him; witnesses said the man was cooperating, but was hit by several beanbag rounds and then killed by one round from an AR-15.

#77 ::: Dave Harmon ::: (view all by) ::: June 22, 2013, 07:21 PM:

Bruce Cohen #76: There's also folks who are hearing-impaired, who face the same hazards.

#78 ::: bryan ::: (view all by) ::: June 22, 2013, 08:30 PM:

hmm, I just noticed she was supposed to only have the strength of ten men which doesn't make any sense. Everybody knows you add the strength of one man per year as you age when you're a supernatural female. Something about this story doesn't add up.

#79 ::: Andrew Willett ::: (view all by) ::: June 23, 2013, 10:52 AM:

For a deeper look at bath salts — both for a sense of the behavior they can induce in users and for a great set of infographics on their effects on the brain — see the terriffic PBS NewsHour piece The Drug That Never Lets Go. For all that it's being used as Threat to Civilization of the Week, this is imdeed scary stuff.

#80 ::: Walt Greenglen ::: (view all by) ::: June 23, 2013, 11:13 AM:

Man this is one hilarious discussion. So many "dissident" commenters siding with PoPo, implying or outright stating that we are safer with Tasers because supposedly they're non-lethal.

Who says they're non-lethal?

Oh that's right. PoPo says. And some MD "consultants" who were paid mightily to say so, they also allege non-lethality, while ignoring the many cases in which Tasers are lethal, or seriously injurious.

Thank Yahweh we have video games teaching our kids that Tasers merely stun and "knock out but don't kill" their targets. I'm sure that doesn't color people's perceptions at all.

Upthread someone said "electrocuted" as a verb requires death of the person shocked. NOT TRUE. You can be electrocuted any time you get shocked. If you think not dying is some kind of great result, ask anyone who has had electroconvulsive therapy. That's low-grade (huh?) electrocution designed to scramble the human brain's electronic impulses. And it often causes long-term psychological and emotional damage.

I hope each one of you who looks favorably on Tasers gets Tasered for wearing the wrong clothes or having the wrong haircut or driving a vehicle with a "domestic terrorist" bumper sticker.

#81 ::: Anne Sheller ::: (view all by) ::: June 23, 2013, 12:30 PM:

Walt Greenglen @80 - Are you reading the same discussion that the rest of us are? You appear to be arguing against positions that no one is taking. This was apparently your first comment here. You might want to calm down and read what people are actually saying.

#82 ::: Bruce E. Durocher II ::: (view all by) ::: June 23, 2013, 12:34 PM:

You know, it's not the drive-by commenters that are bad. It's the drive-by commenters with mental constipation but keyboard IBS that bring to mind the Eric Hoffer line: "What monstrosities would walk the streets were some people's faces as unfinished as their minds."

#83 ::: chris ::: (view all by) ::: June 23, 2013, 01:26 PM:

@76: IIRC, the only reason some of those people are on the street in the first place is budget cuts to the institutions where they would be a good deal safer, with people who are at least aware of their condition and have some training in how to deal with it.

There is something very Omelas-like in the idea of tasering more mental patients so that taxes can be slightly lower.

#84 ::: Lori Coulson ::: (view all by) ::: June 23, 2013, 01:57 PM:

Walt Greenglen @80:

We're all adults here. Please do not use "baby talk" to us. ("Po Po" -- really -- how...cute. NOT)

If you mean the police or law enforcement officers then bloody well say so. You might want to actually READ THE THREAD, before commenting.

(To the regulars, my apologies for the outburst. I'm feeling grumpy today.)

#85 ::: Xopher Halftongue ::: (view all by) ::: June 23, 2013, 03:14 PM:

Lori 84: I'm sure you speak for many.

Walt 80: ...really, you might want to read this comment thread. I don't actually see anyone looking favorably on tasers at all. And no, saying that they might not be the very worst thing in the world doesn't count.

The only new things in your comment are a) the finger-pointing at violent video games and b) your malevolent wish that people in this thread be tasered (though since no one actually was doing what you accuse them of, you're actually not wishing it on anyone). Both could have been stated more politely. Everything else you said has been pointed out in the thread already, and said better (and more politely) than you did.

#86 ::: Alex R. ::: (view all by) ::: June 23, 2013, 03:19 PM:

@ 80 ::: Walt Greenglen

The question we have to ask about policing issues goes something like this: Did the officer make the right decision given the circumstances.

In most of the examples Patrick posted, the police made the wrong decision and, in my opinion, used excessive force. In a couple of the examples posted by Patrick, there wasn't enough information for me to come to any conclusion about the issue. The only use of tasers posted by Patrick which I felt I could support was the autistic girl by the highway.

My personal opinion is that absolute hatred of the police, such as yours, encapsulates the same kind of fanaticism as absolute support of the police. A good citizen actually looks at the circumstances in which force was used and draws an independent conclusion.

Something else to consider is that the Internet is a very biased medium; reports on police who were did the right thing - and they do it every day, often at considerable risk - don't travel very far.*

I would agree that the quality of policing is declining; the arguments made by Radly Balko or in Patrick's top post (or elsewhere on this thread) are very strong in that regard. But every officer deserves to have his/her actions evaluated independently. However, as far as this conversation is concerned, it looks like you're completely missing the nuances and are dealing with your own issues far more than you're actually engaging in the discussion.

* 4-5 months ago there was a standoff in front of our house. The local police had tried to arrest/ticket a young man on some kind of traffic offense and he fled. The local police pursued him until he ran out of gas on the road outside of our house. The kid (who was obviously dumb as a stump) got out of the car holding a chrome or silver piece of metal which was roughly gun-shaped. The local police did not open fire. They engaged him verbally until the local K-9 officer could park down the street from the situation and get the dog into the right position, then they let the dog go. The dog took the kid down with minimal fuss (and minimal injury) and a couple minutes later the boy was in the back of a police car. It was practised, intelligent police work with minimal violence - and while there was local news coverage it did not travel at all.

#87 ::: Jim Macdonald ::: (view all by) ::: June 23, 2013, 03:23 PM:

I wonder who Walt is quoting when he puts quote-marks around "dissident"?

His is the first use of the word in this thread.

(And by "so many" he actually appears to mean "none.")

#88 ::: GlendaP ::: (view all by) ::: June 23, 2013, 05:31 PM:

Walt @80: You've wandered into an odd corner of the internet where people actually have civil discussions instead of hurling talking points at each other.

Even when we disagree, we do so politely and respectfully, keeping in mind there's a living, breathing person on the other side of the screen.

We also recognize the existence of nuance. Most issues are more complex than simplistic slogans try to paint them.

#89 ::: Carol Kimball ::: (view all by) ::: June 23, 2013, 05:48 PM:

Alex R.
re: competent police work

Can you give more info on this, ideally including who on that force to write to and thank?

#90 ::: Xopher Halftongue ::: (view all by) ::: June 23, 2013, 06:10 PM:

And, Walt, we look down on drive-by commenters more than we do on people who say immoderate things on their first post.

In other words, if you want to backtrack on anything, or say things in a different way, after you actually read the thread, and come back and respond to things people are actually saying, you will be as entitled to civility as anyone.

#91 ::: Alex R. ::: (view all by) ::: June 23, 2013, 06:29 PM:

@ 89 Carol Kimball

Sent via your website.

#92 ::: Wyn ::: (view all by) ::: June 23, 2013, 09:28 PM:

Thanks to those who explained the bath salts reference -- I had never heard of the stuff, and there was no indication that it wasn't epsom salts. I'm pretty sheltered when it comes to drugs -- and perhaps "bath salts" have not been such a problem here in Canada?

#93 ::: Jim Macdonald ::: (view all by) ::: June 24, 2013, 12:14 AM:

"Bath salts" and similar drugs are wholly the creation of the War On Drugs.

Here's how that works: Some drug is made illegal. The legal definition includes the exact thing being banned.

So ... a chemist mixes up something that's one-molecule-different from the illegal substance. There you go, legal!

That thing is, in due course, made illegal. So some chemist makes something that's one-molecule different to escape the law. This new thing is legal! Hurrah!


The ultimate, practical result is that instead of, say, well-understood and wholly-reversible morphine, we have bizarre substances with unstudied effects and unknown side effects being used in uncontrolled ways.

Real big win for the War On Drugs, you betcha.

#94 ::: Lee ::: (view all by) ::: June 24, 2013, 01:17 AM:

Dave B., #60: IANA medical professional, but my understanding is that you can indeed have a concussion (or worse) from being whacked on the head with no signs of damage visible except possibly on close examination. When I fell down the stairs at age 10 or thereabouts, my parents were told to keep an eye on me for the rest of the day, and if I started getting sleepy (before my normal bedtime) to take me to the hospital.

The Raven, #67: It also appears from the reports that some cops don't themselves understand how tasers work. We keep hearing about incidents where someone is repeatedly tased for failing to stand up when ordered to do so after being tased the first time. "Get up!" ZAP "Get up!" ZAP "Get up!" ZAP... as though they don't realize that a tasered person may not be ABLE to get up for several minutes.

Or perhaps they realize perfectly well, and it just makes a convenient excuse. And every repeated ZAP increases the chance that the cumulative effect will become lethal.

Alex, #86: This suggests (at least to me) that one effective counter-measure might be to make news coverage of police Doin It Rite go viral -- with the point being that hey, all this shit the cops keep doing isn't necessary, so why do they keep doing it?

This is sort of analogous to the way I make a point of noting to myself when another driver does something well that he or she could have done poorly. It serves to counteract confirmation bias -- to remind me that not all the other drivers out there are assholes and idiots.

Also, pointing out instances where the cops get it right provides people with a standard against which to measure the ones who get it wrong, and makes it harder for the cops to argue that the wrong way is "just standard procedure".

#95 ::: Neil W ::: (view all by) ::: June 24, 2013, 06:52 AM:

Lori Coulson @84 I believe Po Po is a street term for the police, by which I mean that I've heard it used by London-based comedy rappers and home counties teenagers. Someone less down with the kids might use "The Old Bill" or "The Fuzz" similarily.

#96 ::: Serge Broom ::: (view all by) ::: June 24, 2013, 07:14 AM:

Neil W @ 95... Someone less down with the kids might use "The Old Bill" or "The Fuzz" similarily.

You remind me it's been quite some time since I've seen Simon Pegg's movie.

#97 ::: Jim Macdonald ::: (view all by) ::: June 24, 2013, 10:14 AM:

#60 Dave Bell

For that matter, while the report tells us very little, apart from drugs another possible cause of the behavior is that the girl was a crime victim, or suffering from concussion (is that plausible, Jim, with no obvious injury?), while the comment thread is littered with commenters saying the child was autistic.

Entirely plausible.

I recall one case where a naked lady turned up in someone's home. Turned out she was a tourist who'd had an automobile accident, walked 'til she came to a house, took off her clothes and went to bed. A head injury was involved.

#98 ::: Xopher Halftongue ::: (view all by) ::: June 24, 2013, 10:30 AM:

I think the key question is "How can we get it across to police officers that they mustn't tase someone they wouldn't shoot if they didn't have a taser?"

First, that has to become policy. Probably the biggest barrier.

Second, they have to be trained that the taser is not to be used as a compliance tool.

Third, there have to be consequences.

Actually the biggest barrier is probably the fact that the House isn't going to pass ANYTHING useful before at least 2015.

#99 ::: chris ::: (view all by) ::: June 24, 2013, 07:26 PM:

#98: Second, they have to be trained that the taser is not to be used as a compliance tool.

Assuming, for the sake of argument, that police officers don't use the firearm as a compliance tool, perhaps it is worth examining *why* they don't, for the purposes of generalizing the solution to all weapons we the people see fit to equip them with.

Third, there have to be consequences.

I think the consequences of even a taser use ultimately determined to be justified should be nearly as unpleasant to the officer as to the target. That's the best way to make sure they won't pull the trigger except to prevent an outcome *even worse than that*.

I'd suggest mandatory investigation of any weapon-use incident, except that most departments probably don't have the manpower for it or the funding to get the manpower, and it might lead to a "we're one team and the public is the opposing team" culture that would turn the investigations into whitewashes anyway.

Improvement doesn't have to be done at the federal level though -- state and local policy improvements will not only improve the lives of people who would have been victims within those jurisdictions, they can also be a model for adopting their reforms elsewhere.

#100 ::: MinaW ::: (view all by) ::: June 26, 2013, 02:03 AM:

Re deterrents to cops' use of tasers:

It is my impression that every use of a gun by a cop requires a lengthy report (according to mystery stories). Is this correct?

And is the use of a taser free from report-writing requirements?

Admittedly, unless someone is taking pictures, the cop might not admit to it.

But still, this is something we all could address on our local level — check on local policies, and advocate for a requirement for reports when tasers are used.

I suspect that report-writing is not their favorite activity.

Could be a first step anyway.

Citizen-review committees?

Jim #97: So any guesses how much more likely it is that tasing someone with a concussion would be lethal?

#101 ::: john, who is incognito ::: (view all by) ::: June 26, 2013, 02:12 PM:

Xopher @ 15, SamChevre @ 21, Steve Downey @ 31:

From my library's OED subscription (database, not print):

2. trans. To give an electric shock to; esp. (chiefly refl. or in pass.) to kill or injure by electric shock.
1890 Freeborn County Standard (Albert Lea, Minnesota) (Electronic text) 24 Sept., When venture-some rodents walk within a metallic cage, containing cheese, they are transfixed by a strong electric current and ‘electrocuted’.
1899 Times 11 Apr. 1/4 Continuation of the Monster Holiday Show. Marvellous performances... See to-day, at 3 and 8, Dr. Walford Bodie electrocute a man.
1909 Yorks. Post 4 Aug. 4/5 [A boy] who was electrocuted on the Mersey Railway last Saturday.
1939 D. L. Sayers In Teeth of Evid. 9 One of them got loose last time and tried to electrocute itself on the X-ray plant.
1988 Courier-Mail (Brisbane) (Nexis) 10 May, I was electrocuted. I can still smell the flesh burning.
2004 Chicago Tribune (Midwest ed.) 11 July x. 23/2, I wasn't going to touch a battery—I'd have electrocuted myself.

Note "or injure" and the 1988 citation.

Also, there's this from NewsBank, which is an another clear example of pre-2002 use of "electrocution" to mean "non-lethal shock":
DEMOLITION WORKER, 46, "AMAZED" HE'S STILL ALIVE; Worcester Telegram & Gazette (MA) - Monday, July 30, 1990:
[relevant bits only]

"I don't remember much of it. I don't even remember the building I was working on," he said in a telephone interview. "About the only thing I know was that I was electrocuted. Other than that my mind is a complete blank."

#102 ::: john, who is incognito and definitely not at work, apologizes ::: (view all by) ::: June 26, 2013, 02:17 PM:

Ah, I should know better than to post a comment on a thread here without having read the entirety of it first. I see that the "non-lethal" meaning of electrocution, and that OED citation, were already covered @49, 50 above. I'm sorry.

#103 ::: Xopher Halftongue ::: (view all by) ::: June 26, 2013, 02:41 PM:

john, I'm not clear what comment you're apologizing for.

#104 ::: john, who is incognito and definitely not at work ::: (view all by) ::: June 26, 2013, 03:57 PM:

Xopher: It was being held for review at first. Was comment 101 there when you posted 103?

#105 ::: Xopher Halftongue ::: (view all by) ::: June 26, 2013, 04:26 PM:

Ah! It wasn't. I see now, thanks.

#106 ::: Dave Harmon ::: (view all by) ::: June 28, 2013, 11:25 PM:

A couple of articles from Wired:

Taser Wars: The Real Dangers of Loose Triggers -- incidents and commentary.

Scientists: In Theory, Tasers Can’t Kill People. Others: How do you Explain These Dead Guys? -- incidents and science-article roundup.

#107 ::: David DeLaney ::: (view all by) ::: August 27, 2013, 10:46 AM:

A late entry to the thread: I encountered "Po-po" as slang for the police for the first time in Estep's Elemental Mages/The Spider series (Spider's Bite &c.); the protagonist, the tough-as-nails worldly-wise female assassin known as The Spider when she's not managing her Southern-style restaurant, uses it all the time. A while later there was a country hit that involved it, "5-1-5-oh, somebody call the po-po" - which seems to be "5-1-5-0" by Dierks Bently, 2012.

So yeah, it's out there as slang, but seems mostly confined to some subgroup(s) I don't interact with much?

--Dave, catching up

#108 ::: Xopher Halftongue sees spam ::: (view all by) ::: November 25, 2013, 07:37 PM:

Particularly stupid spam, too.

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