Bits and pieces from around the web:
“I’m not using excessive force, you’re excessively excited!”
This is a bit old, but NPR has an interesting series of reports on tasers and “death by excited delirium,” which is not a medically recognized condition. You can listen to them here and here.
(thanks to Peter Moskos’ blog Cop In the Hood, and to Meg for pointing out how “dope” the site is)
“It’s not a deadly weapon, you’re just using it wrong… and by ‘you’ I mean lots of you, again and again, in a systematic manner”
Speaking of the use of non-lethal force, there’s been another in a series of incidents concerning the improper use of the French non-lethal police tool called the Flash-ball, this time in the Parisian suburb of Montreuil. Francophones can read a commentary by Georges Moréas, who thinks the problem is not with the arm but with the rules for its utilization, at the Le Monde-affiliated blog “Police et cetera” here. It’s worth looking at, if only for the cool impact photos of the various types of ammunition which, Moréas reminds us, has the stopping power of a .38 Special (the weapon, not the Southern rock band).
Training is mostly B.S.
Also from Cop in the Hood, Moskos comments on a piece in The Oregonian which details changes in the amount of time, and schedule for, police recruits spending time in the field during their training. “Of my six months in the academy. I’d say that one month was wasted by sitting in an empty room or getting yelled at. Another 2 months were all but wasted with B.S. “classes” where nothing was really learned. That leaves three months of training that was actually productive. And I think I’m being generous,” estimates Moskos.
5 thoughts on “Anthropoliteia Around the Web 7/16/09”
Another good topic for discussion—less lethal/less than lethal. I have come to the opinon, very unpopular among social scientists, that the Taser is one of the greatest tools ever given to law enforcement. I have used it many times and have avoided serious injury to myself and to suspects in a range of situations from non-compliance to knock down drag out fights. Having looked at as much of the evidence as I can (From Taser International to Amnesty International) my sense is that is unlikely that Tasers can kill. I think the issues law enforcement agenceis need to be concerned with is “In-Custody Deaths.” That is, are there appropriate procedures in place to care for those taken into custody after force has been used? Secondly, the issues is one of training. Have officers been training well enough to know when the taser is appropriate to use and when other techniques are useful. I think any situation in which a baton will be used is a taser situation as is true of pepper spray (which 35 years ago people objected to for the same reason as the Taser: it kills).
What I have learned is this: the risk of going hands on and the situation resulting in grave bodily injury or even death outweighs the risk that a confluence of factors will lead someone to dying after being tased. This does not mean that everyone should be exposed to a taser for non-compliance, but it does mean that when it is clear that situation is going to escalate, there is no reason or legal obligation to use the minimal force option. In fact, nearly every study of serious injury to police officers or homicides of police officer show the same thing—great bodily injury or death could have been avoid by correctly escalating the level of force used. Of course nothing in the taser technology prevents it from being used by an idiot. The tasing of a man off of a ledge in NY is a great example. The taser didn’t kill, but the fall sure did! The officer and commanding officer where ultimately held accountable for their decision.
Police officers are products of their society and by and large they do not use force and are adverse to the use of force because it goes against their sensibilities or there is a significant fear of civil litigation. I think the question about tasers, just like baton’s, 40mm sponge rounds, or pepper spray is not whether or not they are risk free (nothing in police work is risk free including driving a patrol car which causes far more fatalities than anything else cops do but which has not been incorporated into the political discourse). The questions really is what constitutes the legitimate use of force. For example, should cops use the minimal force necessary or reasonable force? What constitutes reasonable force? My sense is that the political discourse surrounding the taser is a proxy is for these questions.
“…The questions really is what constitutes the legitimate use of force. For example, should cops use the minimal force necessary or reasonable force? What constitutes reasonable force? My sense is that the political discourse surrounding the taser is a proxy is for these questions.”
I agree entirely here. Tasers–both in the U.S. and in France–are what William Peitz would call a “fetish”: an object around which competing modes of evaluation rub up against each other. I’m actually finishing up at article about the use of tasers in the French riots, and i probably talk more articulatly about the problem there.
But going back to your questions (and at the risk of sounding repetitive already): “What is the legitimate use?” and “Why should cops use the minimal force necessary?”, I would point out that Foucault defined liberalism as a form of governance which constantly seeks a mode in which to assure its own self-limitation. The question of liberal governance is always “is there too much government?” When it comes to police, this means the critical question is “rae police too violent? And, if so, how can we assure they maintain order without that level of violence?” police, in other words, must demonstrate that they are using the absolute minimum of force, because the very legitimacy of liberal governance depends upon it.
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