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Despite dangers, nonlethal force still preferable when possible
"Don't taze me bro!"
It was a viral video a few years ago, but the ACLU of Nebraska thinks our state's law enforcement agencies are misusing the electronic stun devices.
Tasers apply 50,000 volts to the body, incapacitating the subject long enough to be subdued, but sometimes causing death -- the ACLU cites figures showing 540 deaths in the past 13 years, including three in Nebraska.
Federal guidelines say Tasers should not be used as coercion or punishment, but only if someone is exhibiting active aggression or resisting in a way that will injure themselves or others -- guidelines the ACLU says are violated in about 65 percent of the incidents it examined.
To be sure, Tasers aren't always used correctly, such as a time when a Hastings subject with Hepatitis C was Tasered for spitting on officers, a mentally ill woman in Grand Island was zapped while sitting, and a 10-year-old boy who was Tased twice, including once for 18 seconds, in the chest after pushing, punching and injuring an officer who was attempting to take him to the ground after refusing to listen to school staffers. The police report said the officer punched his shoulder, kicked the side of his head and used the Taser in "drive-stun" mode.
The latter involves applying the device directly without firing probes and wires that are used in the conventional mode.
Officials disagree about the deaths, saying Tasers would not have been fatal had the subjects not already had underlying medical conditions such as heart disease.
They also cite studies showing fatalities among the public and officers have declined with the advent of Tasers, and specific instances, such as a suicidal teenager who was tazed after she rushed an officer while clutching two butcher knives. The girl would have been dead had the officer been forced to use his pistol because a Taser was not an option.
Like it or not, there are times law enforcement officers must use force to prevent injury to themselves, others, or the subject involved in a violent incident.
Given the choice between lethal force such as a firearm, or nonlethal force, the latter should be encouraged or even expanded, within reasonable guidelines.