A recent Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals decision (pdf) has police departments across the region reexamining their Taser policies. At heart, the question is when — and on whom — it’s appropriate to use these usually nonlethal weapons. The ruling coincides with two recent incidents in Eugene that have raised the issue of stun gun use on unarmed citizens.
As the LA Times wrote last week:
The weapons, which resemble handguns, can be fired from about 20 feet away and project two dartlike electrodes. The electrodes send an electrical charge coursing through the target — a shock that temporarily paralyzes the person’s muscles and causes extreme pain….
Though stun guns have been in use for about three decades, the number of police departments issuing them to officers has proliferated in the last 10 years. Advocates tout the weapons as a less-than-lethal alternative to firearms and say they help resolve dangerous face-to-face confrontations with combative suspects. But several controversial Taser incidents, some involving fatalities, have led to widespread debate over when police should be allowed to deploy the weapons.
That debate is very live in Oregon: from Medford to Salem to Portland to Eugene where, in the most recent case, a Chinese university student who spoke no English was tased after being mistaken as an intruder in his own townhouse. Eugene’s chief of police found this week that the officers’ use of force “is at the edge of what’s allowed by policy. But it is within policy.”
If you work in law enforcement, have you ever used a Taser? When and why? If you’ve been tased, what lead to it — and what did it feel like? Have laws governing the use of nonlethal force kept up with the technology?
- Willie Bose: Commander of the services division overseeing training and professional standards for the Washington County Sheriff’s office
- David Fidanque: Executive director of the American Civil Liberties Union of Oregon
- Jeff Salisbury: Attorney in Eugene whose son was fatally shot by police officers in Eugene in 2006 before Eugene police began carrying Tasers
- Geoff Alpert: Professor of criminology at the University of South Carolina and principal investigator for a recent study (pdf) on police use of force