The research regarding Tasers, including the manufacturer’s own publications, caution that this weapon not be used on “vulnerable populations” unless no other means are available to control a grave danger. The many categories of “vulnerable populations” include: serious mental illness or cognitive disorders; pregnant; medical problems including cardiac and pulmonary conditions, pacemakers, epileptic seizures and sickle cell; drug- or alcohol- intoxication; severe agitation; and the deaf or hard of hearing. Yet, the research further shows that it is precisely at members of these vulnerable populations that Tasers are usually fired.
When the police seek to acquire this weapon, they reassure us with, “Trust us, we’ll be well-trained and very careful.” But after they use it against a vulnerable individual, they take cover with, “Oops, sorry, but how could we know?” This “oops” defense is what the Attorney General and State Police are presently using to explain the death last year of Macadam Mason, an unarmed Thetford man who died immediately after he was Tased. Mason was a member of the “vulnerable populations”, who was in the throes of a severe mental health crisis, threatening suicide, and who had a history of epileptic seizures, including seizures just the day before he was shot.
Law enforcement can’t have it both ways, and they lose the public trust in trying. To the extent we permit the police to carry this weapon, Tasers should only be permitted to be deployed under the same standard as a firearm, which is to say, when there exists “an imminent threat of death or serious bodily injury”. That way, they will only be used when there is truly no other public safety choice. Under such a standard, Macadam Mason would be alive today.
Tasers are too dangerous a weapon for public relations games. State law and police policies should allow Taser deployment only when there is no less-lethal weapon that will meet and prevent a grave danger. That restraint on the use of Tasers will mean they will only save lives, not unnecessarily take them.
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