Police Taser Use: Cost-Benefit Analysis
In response to a commenter’s assertion in my Police Taser Deaf, Retarded Man post that “officers are killed in the line of duty are the time,” Jim Henley retorts, “Define line of duty and all the time.”
Kelley Vlahos does just that in a piece for The American Conservative. The numbers are surprising:
According to federal statistics, the number of police officers shot and killed in the line of duty is at an historic low. The nationwide number actually dropped 40 percent — from 68 in 2007 to 41 in 2008. The numbers have been on a downward trajectory for years, and Tasers are in part, credited. But there are other reasons, too, like the fact that overall violent crime is down, police wear super high-tech bullet-proof vests today and some 2.3 million Americans are incarcerated and off the streets.
Meanwhile, the stats on the number of American citizens police have killed in that timespan are much more elusive. According to this 2007 report (unverified), 9,500 people were killed by cops from 1980 through 2003, an average of 380 a year, one a day. These recent DOJ numbers jibe, with 1,540 killed by police from 2003-2006. Amnesty International says 351 people have died from police Tasers since 2001.
Now, frankly, if those 351 people were all violent criminals who posed a real danger to the police officers or civilians, I could live with that. But that’s not the case.
[A] quick Google News search of the last month alone reveals a barrage of police tasing incidents across the country one more barbaric than the other: grandmas, grandpas, the mentally ill, teens and even children. Some of these taser victims died. One (ok, in Australia) burst into flames, another was left with burns in his anus, and yet another, a 14-year-old girl, got it in the head — running away after a dispute with her mother over a cell phone (caution, graphic).
All — in varying degrees — needed to be “subdued” by police, and were. It is, after all, a most effective tool in that regard, especially when dealing with pregnant women, 16-year-olds with broken backs and 6-year-old boys. After reading news reports dating back to 2004 about the hyper-use of these 50,000-volt zap guns, it’s not difficult to imagine what might have happened if Gates were say, in Boise, and had hurled one more insult, used a few expletives, raised a hand or moved toward Officer James Crowley in a “threatening manner,” much like this guy, who was irate and scary, but nonetheless handcuffed and shackled, when he was Tasered in a Kentucky court on July 22.
When Reason wrote about Tasers in 2005, there were 6,000 law enforcement agencies employing Taser guns. The high-voltage weapons, according to the Amnesty International statistics in the report, “are used on unarmed suspects in 80 percent of the cases, for verbal non-compliance in 36 percent, and for cases involving ‘deadly assault’ only 3 percent of the time.”
Officers do what they’re trained to do and, sadly, that often means bullying citizens and escalating to violent confrontation quite rapidly. Accordingly, if they’re prudent, honest citizens accosted by boorish cops will behave more like Colin Powell than Christopher Hitchens. But we should change the culture so that we don’t have to.
Related: A rather off-color public service announcement from Chris Rock:
So, since the president is keen on offering instruction, here is what I would advise he teach his Ivy League pals, and anyone else who may find himself unexpectedly confronted by a police officer: You may be as pure as the driven snow itself, but you have no idea what horrible crime that police officer might suspect you of committing. You may be tooling along on a Sunday drive in your 1932 Hupmobile when, quite unknown to you, someone else in a 1932 Hupmobile knocks off the nearby Piggly Wiggly. A passing police officer sees you and, asking himself how many 1932 Hupmobiles can there be around here, pulls you over. At that moment I can assure you the officer is not all that concerned with trying not to offend you. He is instead concerned with protecting his mortal hide from having holes placed in it where God did not intend. And you, if in asserting your constitutional right to be free from unlawful search and seizure fail to do as the officer asks, run the risk of having such holes placed in your own.
When the officer has satisfied himself that it was not you and your Hupmobile that were involved in the Piggly Wiggly heist, he owes you an explanation for the stop and an apology for the inconvenience, but if you’re running your mouth about your rights and your history of oppression and what have you, you’re likely to get neither.
It’s thinking like that that gives “police state” a bad name. See Radley’s take-down.
Photo by Flickr user hradcanska under Creative Commons license.