Wednesday, June 10, 2009

The Pros and Cons of Tasers

The media and talk shows are all abuzz about the video of a 72-year-old woman being tasered at a traffic stop last month. The tease to the news story focuses on the woman’s age, and the fact that she’s somebody great-grandmother. Local officials recently ruled that the tasing of Kathryn Winkfein was appropriate.

When I first heard the story, I wondered why anyone would taser a 72-year-old man OR woman at a traffic stop. But, after watching the dash cam video of the incident (below), I have to admit that the woman was acting pretty mouthy and seems to be using her age as an excuse. She also appeared to walk closer to the traffic, despite the officer’s repeated instructions to move back.

Were there any other options besides tasing that the officer could have taken? Maybe. If he decided to place her under arrest for resisting, he could have cuffed her and moved her to his car. Still, if she had her mind made up that she wanted to get back into her car and physically fought him, if she made another move towards traffic, she could have gotten herself, and the officer, hit by a car. It was a tough call, and while one would think the police officer could have somehow physically restrained her, it is possible that tasing was the easiest way for him to render her unable to physically resist.

The pros to tasers is that they are sometime better than using physical force, and always better than using a gun, to restrain or disable someone who has become out of control. While I have no desire to have any family member of mile tased, I would rather the police take that option than using severe physical force that could cause harm. I would be very upset too if my 79 year old mother was treated that way, but I would also be upset and concerned if I saw my mother behave the same way this woman had behaved toward the officer. (Just for the record, if my mother behaved this way, it would not be normal for her, which is why I would be concerned.)

The cons to tasers is that they can be an easy out for the police. This office was clearly bigger and more powerful than this 72-year-old woman, and I don’t see why he couldn’t have just cuffed her and led her to his car. In addition, a 72-year-old person’s heart or nervous system may not react too well to the shock of a taser. In fact, unless a police officer knows the medical condition in advance of the person they are going to taser, they run the risk that their action could cause the person serious physical harm. And what if the woman’s unruly behavior was due to a medical condition? The officer can’t always know if the person is acting out because they have a medical problem, or if the person is just being a jerk. My thinking is the officer needs to engage their brains before they engage that taser – presuming they have time to think, that is.

In this case, the taser didn’t appear to cause her any major harm. His intent appeared to be to get her out of the line of traffic, and to keep her from possibly fleeing in her car. Her repeated invoking of her age was a clear attempt on her part to use her age as an excuse for her infraction. Sorry, but if you’re age is that much of a problem that it causes you to speed to the point you are stopped by the police, maybe you shouldn’t be on the road.

While tasers aren’t the answer in all cases, in this one, it was likely the best choice.

Video – 72 Year Old Woman Tased

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Michael said...

I agree it's a tough one to try and figure out what side is right. I agree with the points that it seems extreme and could be damaging. But all I keep thinking about is the frailty of older people and if they are resisting it just seems like that would be even more opportunity for an injury to happen to the person. I really don't know what the best solution is in this case, just hope I never have to deal with it related to someone I know.

Bambu said...

I don't think it is that tough of a call in regards to what the officer should have done. Cuff the lady and put her in the back of the police car. She is old and you can cause permanent damage to someone that old by tasing them. Not only can you cause a heart attack or something of that nature, the lady also could have broken a bone, such as a hip, from falling to the ground. You cannot justify the actions of the officer simply because there were other options and precautions that should have been observed before using a taser on a an old lady. If this was before the time of tasers the officer would have cuffed the lady and put her in the back seat. I think that the police departments need to review procedures and perhaps make some changes or at least teach the officers to use better judgment.

Anonymous said...

I agree with the above commenters who agree that the officer in the incident in question was right to take steps to at least detain, stop, or subdue the lady. This decision, of course, is less a case of whether she was 'resisting' or being 'disobedient' but that she shoved the police officer and moved toward him in a threatening manner. That should, by an officer's training, elicit the same response no matter who it is who threatens him or her. However, the issue of whether a Taser is an acceptable 'restraint device' is still in question. Despite that evidence both for and against the Taser's use can be presented, I must say that in my own opinion it is not suitable for this kind of situation, and this is not due to any mechanical or otherwise explicit limitations in the Taser weapon system itself but rather the incidents it is used for. TASER International Inc. sold their weapon to law enforcement on the grounds that it was a 'non-lethal' tool, like milder pepper spray, when, in fact, it is not 'non' but simply 'less-lethal', in the manner that a blow from a heavy baton - still with the full potential for, accidentally or intentionally, delivering a fatal blow - is 'less lethal' than a gun. It is well known that the Taser has the potential to kill by introducing cardiac arrest, by causing a stunned target to fall in a dangerous manner, or by the impact of the TASER barb into the eye. I've seen the TASER X-26 - the most common model in law enforcement use - and the commercial TASER C-2 work up close and this is obvious immediately. It is dishonorable that this system has been marketed the way it has, and that the cultural system has allowed police, sometimes who enter the field with regretfully poor vetting, training, and situational judgment, to use the TASER as a sort of catch-all conflict-ending system for minimal or non-existent threats. Something needs to be done so that this potentially helpful - albeit limited-use - tool doesn't end up being maligned for either civilian or law-enforcement use because it is repeatedly not used as designed intended. Cases like this only fuel the fire.

Professor TJ said...

Shoulda just let her go and told her she owns him an apple pie or when she said she would sign the ticket, just let her sign it. Getting physical and tasing was just too much for a tough old Texas bitch. She didn't have any drugs or weapons. Cops become delusional when they've been working too long or hate their job.