Tasers give many police a lifesaving alternative
EVERY DAY in America, thousands of police officers put their lives on the line to protect us. Those officers and the civilians they serve deserve the best available tools and training as we all work together to keep our cities and states safe, and Taser systems are among those tools many in law enforcement now depend on as a valuable alternative.
We realize an editorial is the proper place for a newspaper to voice an opinion. We also recognize that we do not always expect to agree with that opinion. But we do expect that any opinion is based on facts and that all sides are properly reflected. That was not the case with Friday's editorial "Police should use Tasers sparingly." You left out any mention of the many positive documented uses of Taser technology as well as the support for the use of Taser systems by unbiased, objective organizations. And you distorted remarks of a police officer that appeared in your own newspaper two days earlier to further diminish any objective look at Taser systems.
Specifically, your editorial quoted Alex Garcia, identified in a news story Wednesday as president of the State of Hawaii Organization of Police Officers, as saying that a Taser device "could be deadly" to a police officer or a civilian.
That was a blatant out-of-context misrepresentation of what Garcia said. The first part of Garcia's quote in your newspaper reads, "We think Taser is an excellent tool." He went on to say his concern stemmed from the POLICY being implemented that delays the possible use of the Taser system by an officer in a critical situation -- not the pure USE of a Taser device.
Today, more than 9,100 police departments across the country -- not the 7,000 you cited in your editorial -- now have or are testing Taser systems. That includes 181 agencies in Massachusetts, a state where Wednesday's news story incorrectly reported that Taser devices are banned from law enforcement use. More than 2,100 of those agencies have Taser devices for every patrol officer. It is hard to think of another tool or weapon that is more accountable than a Taser -- serialized ammunition, a computer that is part of the weapon logging each discharge and, in the new Taser Cam, a front seat at the incident.
Police officers are not the only ones who see and endorse the advantages of Taser technology. A report presented on June 30 at the annual conference of the National Alliance on Mental Illness shows that in a significant number of law enforcement contacts with mentally ill people, escalation to lethal force or suicide was prevented by a Taser device. Of the reported 2,452 reports of a Taser device used on mentally ill people during the 72-month study period, 1,111 (45.3 percent) were in situations where lethal force would have been justified by the reporting officer or where the subject posed an imminent lethal danger to himself. That is 1,111 lives saved in one of the most vulnerable groups of our population.
The U.S. Metropolitan Municipalities EMS Medical Directors Consortium, at their spring conference, issued a statement saying they "strongly support the appropriate use of conductive electrical devices such as Taser" under guidelines established by two national law enforcement organizations.
Taser devices might not be perfect solutions, but they do make an imperfect world safer. On Friday, the day your editorial ran, Taser devices were used to save lives in California, Florida, Indiana, Maine and Ontario, according to news accounts. We know Taser technology reduces injuries and that they save lives and will continue to do so for as long as they are used.
Tom Smith is president and co-founder of Taser International Inc.