Weekend Road Trip: A Shocking Trip To Taser Town


Taser use by police is on the rise. So is the number of assaults on police officers. And a visit to this blog on Fridays is a grim reminder of the number of officers who lose their lives each week. Are the assault on officers and Taser use incidents related? Possibly.

Sure, some Taser deployments aren’t necessary and that’s unfortunate. But keep in mind that officers have mere seconds to decide how to react to a suspect’s actions. Their split second decisions could mean life or death.

No one could possibly know what goes on in the mind of the officers making those decisions. We only see the dash cam or bystander videos, and that’s not the same thing as facing the danger at that particular moment. I can say from experience that what looks like a perfectly harmless situation to the public may be perceived as life-threatening to the officer.

A police officer’s job is not for the faint of heart. Believe me, when you pin on that badge it’s time to keep your hands and feet inside the car at all times because the ride from that moment on is rough.

I’m not defending or condemning the actions of anyone. But I will say that I’m not a fan of Taser use in every situation. I think there needs to be a tougher standard and better training. However, I’m all for everyone going home at the end of the day and if it takes a 50,000 volt blast of electricity to make that happen, then so be it. There are lots of little girls and boys out there who should never have to grow up without their mommy or daddy.

Now, there are use of force situations that don’t require split-second thinking and those are the incidents I normally hear about from you guys.

The question I receive more than any other regarding use of force is:

Do some officers overreact, resorting to a higher level of force than is justified for the situation at hand?

You be the judge. Is better training needed? Are officers faced with too much stress? Is the use of force used in these videos justified?

I’d like to hear your opinions on Taser use in law enforcement.

By the way, we’ll be discussing and demonstrating Tasers at the Writers Police Academy. You’ll actually see someone shot with a Taser. We’ll also be demonstrating pepper spray use. Yep, we really do have live volunteers who’ve agreed to be blasted so you can see the effects up close. You’ll never forget the sensations. There are sounds, sights, and smells that you’ll be anxious to transfer to paper. Personally, I can’t wait to read the books written after the authors graduate from our academy. Registration opens Monday and space is limited!

5 replies
  1. Jonathan Hayes
    Jonathan Hayes says:

    I’ve not dealt with a taser-involved death myself, but there are a number out there. Taser is notoriously litigious, and has a reputation in the Medical Examiner community for coming after any M.E. who implicates the taser in a death.

    The issues are very complicated in these deaths: the videos Lee has posted above aside, tasers are most frequently deployed in situations where you have an out-of-control individual. Frequently those individuals are intoxicated, often with stimulant drugs like cocaine. Stimulant drugs are pro-arrhythmic, meaning that they make it more likely for the intoxicated individual’s heart to fail. If you have an intoxicated individual, who may have some underlying heart disease, involved in an altercation with the police, particularly if there’s been a pursuit, particularly if the confrontation involves pepper spray or the ultimate intervention of several officers overpowering and cuffing the victim, and the victim is tasered as part of the process and then goes on to die, it’s very difficult to determine the amount of blame – if any – the taser should have. Often, the tasering is listed on the death certificate to completely cover all of the possible contributory factors in that death.

    FWIW, I think the taser is very safe. I think it’s an excellent alternative to shooting violent criminals, and believe that in the long run it’ll reduce officer-involved fatalities. I don’t mind the hue and cry from the public about cruel and unusual punishment; I think that’s one of the ways that excess use of force can be monitored, and believe that officers are less likely to misuse the weapon if they know what the fallout can be like. And, of course, you only get to see video at the extremes of appropriateness – tens of thousands of people are tasered each year uneventfully and safely, and don’t yield entertaining videos for lawsuits or YouTube.

    I’d be curious to experience it myself – if you’re looking for faculty volunteers for a tasering at the Academy, Lee, count Professor Hayes in!

  2. Liz
    Liz says:

    I think tasers are overall a great thing for law enforcement. Joyce & Pat make good points – is shooting the person a better alternative? After reading your blog regularly and taking my local citizen’s police academy, and having a better understanding of how police officers make the split-second decisions they do, I’m constantly yelling at the news reporters who paint the cops as bad guys and suspected criminals as victims.

    I also love your cartoon of Taser Me Elmo. After spending a weekend in a hotel with my young nephew, I wanted to taser that d*** toy – or perhaps go right to the gum.

    I also thought of you and your blog last night while reading. There was a gun-fight scene, and after, it said that the smell of cordite hung in the air. And this is a well-respected, NYT bestselling author. She clearly needs to brush up on her gunfight knowledge.

  3. JonathanQuist
    JonathanQuist says:

    After viewing these videos, I find it notable the clips which leave room for inferences of brutality are the clips edited and presented by someone with a vested interest in getting that view across.

    Number 1 – released to the press by the defendant’s attorney. They apparently had access to a copy of the full police video, but chose to release the clip completely out of context, except for a few uneventful seconds prior to the taser.

    Number 3 – from the background, it appears this video was shot at an unruly demonstration of some sort. Again, no context whatsoever indicating what the subject was doing or saying prior to being restrained.

    Number 4 is my favorite, shot by the guy’s wife, apparently. The police repeatedly informed him he was under arrest; the wife didn’t question their actions until they tried to cuff him, forcing the guy to look away from the camera. He almost appeared to be performing from a script.

    Number 2 – the drunk driver was quite obviously resisting arrest, and the officer was in physical jeopardy.

    Number 5 is the only one with any real ambiguity – but put it back in the context of a lone officer pursuing a motorist who has been fleeing for nearly 10 minutes, I can only ask, “What the hell was she thinking?” If the stated explanation – that she feared he was not really a police officer – is legitimate, how would fleeing at high speed help?

    I’ve heard that when a driver attempts to flee, the odds that the officer is facing an imminent physical threat jump quite a bit. I find it amazing that any licensed driver in the U.S. doesn’t understand that they are committing an act of aggression. Having witnessed the end of a high-speed pursuit, and seeing the physical and emotional state of the officers involved, I frankly have no sympathy for this driver. Though not confrontational, she did not appear to be terribly cooperative. And in spite of that, the officer clearly holstered his sidearm, reducing the level of force he was using. How that is brutality?

    I disagree with Pat on one point – I don’t think the officer needs to personally experience being tasered, any more than they need to experience being shot. Yes, they do need sufficient and recurring training to understand how best to use the tool, to maximize its effectiveness and minimize danger to the public, the officer, and the subject being tasered. (Yes, I think that is the appropriate order.)

    Regarding Lee’s questions – I don’t think I want to be the judge. I’m a civilian with relatively few qualifications for setting law enforcement policy. But I’d rather be the judge than many of my fellow citizens. They’re nuts.

    Are officers faced with too much stress? Probably. Would any of those situations have gone differently with two officers in the car? How many cop salaries would it take to make up the cost of one frivolous lawsuit settlement?

    Is the force justified? From the information available in these clips, I cannot say no. And like Pat, if the situation ever arose where an officer misinterpreted my actions, I’d rather be shocked than shot.

  4. Pat Brown
    Pat Brown says:

    I think any tool should only be used when needed, but the question is often who decides that? Viewers at home watching some selectively cut video with a commentary meant to incite anger and disgust? I’m sure there are cases where a taser was used for the wrong reason or incorrectly, but frankly given the choice between a nonlethal tasered and a very lethal bullet I’ll take the taser.

    I do believe part of the training for taser use should include officers having to experience the effects themselves. Training needs to be ongoing as well. But if people want to take away tasers, what do they propose replacing it with? Do they ever think of that?

  5. Joyce
    Joyce says:

    I think Tasers are a useful tool in the proper hands. Where I used to work, the officers were trained that they were to be only used when nothing else worked. And most of them volunteered to experience the Taser so they would know what it felt like. Many people don’t realize that Tasers have probably SAVED a few lives because these criminals may have been shot otherwise.

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