Time to pull the plug on tasers
By Eric Wilkins, Staff Writer
Just the other week, a knife-wielding Vancouver man died following an encounter with the police. While an investigation is currently underway to determine the exact cause of death (the man was allegedly threatening to injure himself), the key point here is that the police employed the use of a taser in subduing their subject—and this is why tasers should be removed from law enforcement.
Tasers are advertised as non-lethal weapons; however, the stats behind them would seem to suggest that they are anything but. In the US, there have been 181 documented deaths tied to taser-use since 2009. While 181 deaths in a country of 300 million plus might be considered negligible, keep in mind that we’re talking about a weapon that is supposed to be non-lethal. That figure should be zero. Oftentimes, deaths related to tasers are blamed on unforeseen heart conditions and other health issues, but this really isn’t an acceptable excuse. If a weapon’s lethality can vary so severely from case to case, then it seems a bit naïve to view it exclusively as a non-lethal option.
The other issue with tasers is again connected to their label as non-lethal. Due to the thinking that the taser is a stun weapon, cops are less likely to hold it in reserve as a last resort, and thus, they use it more frequently. There are officers out there who are already guilty of police brutality; adding a taser to their arsenal is an ill-advised move. Case in point, a 2008 study by Amnesty International (again, in the US) revealed that 90 per cent of those tasered were unarmed—a great number of them were tasered more than once.
If there’s any good news that can be derived from the statistics, it’s that taser-use has seen a significant drop in British Columbia. In 2007, the year of the infamous Robert Dziekanski incident, there were 670 instances of officers firing tasers. Fast forward five years later and there were a mere 85 cases—a change of 87 per cent. Fewer fatalities in suspects. No increase in officer injuries. Cutting down on taser deployments looks to be a win-win.
For all our wishful thinking, the taser isn’t going away anytime soon. With no real viable replacements, it’s difficult to see any police force disposing of it completely. The taser is an upgrade over the gun, but we need to find an upgrade for the taser.