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Dangers Of Tasers Misuse By Law Enforcement Officers Criminology Essay

Paper Type: Free Essay Subject: Criminology
Wordcount: 3258 words Published: 1st Jan 2015

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This paper discusses the dangers and punishment of police officers who have misused the taser. The taser was created to be a less than lethal weapon to help police officers keep a safe distance between themselves and the person they are trying to subdue, and keep serious injury from occurring. However there are several situations where the officers have used this weapon on children, elderly, and handicapped person who did not show aggressive behavior toward them. These weapons were used to punish. The purpose of this paper is to explore the misuse, and address training of the officers to prevent this misuse of the taser.

The Dangers of Tasers Misuse by Law Enforcement Officers in the Line of Duty

This paper addresses the dangers when a police officer misuses the taser, which is a defense weapon. Tasers were developed as a new alternative to deadly force for law enforcement officers, corrections officers, and jailers to help protect themselves, the suspects, inmates, and civilians. Many law enforcement personnel and suspects have been injured in the past because of the close proximity of the officer and the person they were detaining. Less-than- lethal weapons were developed to help in decreasing injuries.

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Since less-than-lethal weapons have been introduced as an alternative to deadly force, police officers have discovered that these weapons were not only effective for detaining suspects, but it could be used for getting someone's attention, or could be used as a way of getting the person to do as instructed. However, some law enforcement officers use their less-than--lethal weapons on children, the elderly, and the handicapped. There is still a chance of the person being injured if the officer is careless with the use of the non-lethal weapons and the risk of injury can be potently high.

The taser is a type of weapon that is similar in appearance to a conventional firearm, because the body has the same shape as a conventional firearm. Instead of firing bullets, the taser fires two electrodes attached to an energy source designed to incapacitate a person. Examples of the misuse by police officers would be using the taser against someone who is non-threatening or who is already handcuffed.

The purpose of this manuscript is to examine the recommendations set forth by the International Association of Chiefs of Police (IACP) and Police Executive Research Forum (PERF) for the law enforcement use of tasers. When do law enforcement officers, correction officers, and jailers misuse their non-lethal weapons (Tasers) on a civilian, prisoner, or suspect without justification for taser use?

If the person is not showing a threat to the officer at that time, should the officer be punished? If the answer is yes, do the organizations in which the officers are employed have a disciplinarian plan in place to deal with the officer in question, what options do these organizations have, and are the punishments just and fair not only for the officer, but for the victim as well?

Literature Review

When law enforcement officers, correction officers, and jailers misuse their non-lethal weapons than an investigation must be done. Cameras can be a solution for the misuse of a taser by a police officer. This would help determine whether an investigation should be considered (Anonymous, 2009; Farrell 2009).

MacDonald,'Kaminski,'and'Smith (2009) reported that incidents of use of force by police officers account for less than 2% of the estimated total of police and civilian contacts (official interaction between any person and an officer), the prevalence of injury to civilians and officers in these situations is high (2 out of 8). Police departments in the United States are increasingly providing officers with less-lethal weapons to control suspects who physically resist arrest.

Lee,'Vittinghoff,'Whiteman,'Park,'Lau,'and'Tseng, (2009) discuss that police officers consider the taser a safer alternative to firearms. Taser deployment was associated with substantial increase in in-custody sudden death in the early deployment period, with no decrease in firearms deaths. Delong and Thompson, (2009) discuss that many police agencies have set up their own rules and procedure regarding the deployment of the non lethal weapons and the circumstances in which the weapons were deployed. The characteristics of the suspects at the time of deployment, and to dismal the difference between the media and the police in the use of the taser on a suspect.


Less-Than-Lethal weapons

Some of the less-than- lethal weapons used by today' police officers are the oleoresin capsicum spray (pepper spray), conductive energy devices (tasers), and blunt impact devices (night sticks). These alternative devices help the officer from making physical contact with the person and limit the injury fact of the officer and the suspect.

The night stick was the first less-than- lethal weapon that police had to subdue a suspect with out resorting to deadly force; however a suspect could be seriously injured by this weapon. The officers were trained and the nightstick was redesigned with a second handle that protruded from the side of the weapon so it could be used as a grappling weapon as well as a striking weapon. The police officer still had to be in close contact with the person for the nightstick to be effective. Injuries would occur not only to the suspect, but also to the officer.

Oleoresin capsicum spray (pepper spray), conductive energy devices (tasers) were the next advancement to be developed for the police officer. Pepper spray is an agent to cause suspects eyes to water uncontrollable that causes the suspect to stop, it also burns the eyes and throat.

The taser was also developed to help the officer to keep a distance between themselves and dangerous situations. There have been many other situations in which police officers were able to protect themselves from injury.

The situations in which a police officer would use his or her taser in an altercation; escape attempt, restraining of the suspect, or when a suspect is showing paranoid and irrational behavior and threat of injury to the suspect or officer are clear. The locations where some officers have used their tasers are while the suspect is in police custody, at the scene of the arrest, or after being handcuffed. Some people who have been tasered have had an underlying health conditions (heart problems, mental illness, or drug use). More than 70 people have died in the United States and Canada after being struck with a taser. There have been 152 cases and 23 of these cases have resulted in death and the taser was the contributory factor (Adams & Jennison,'2007).

Cases of Taser Misuse

A Nevada legislator proposed a bill to require cameras to be mounted to the taser to limit the use of the taser. The Federal Court of Appeals panel made a ruling that a California police officer was not immune from civil litigation when officer Brain McPherson fired his taser at a motorist after a 2005 traffic stop (Anonymous, 2009; Farrell 2009). Law enforcement agencies in the United States stress that built in safe guards (such as chips that record the time and date of each time the taser are fired) are necessary to minimize the potential abuse. These safe guards do not go far enough to prevent officers from abusing their tasers.

According to Amnesty International (2004b), there have been reports of inappropriate or abusive use of tasers in various jurisdiction, sometimes involving repeated cycles of electro-shocks on suspects. The evidence suggest that police officers are not using their tasers as a way to avoid using lethal force, but they are using the taser as a routine force to subdue non- complaint individuals who are not posing a threat. In some departments the officers use the taser as a prevalent force tool.

Tasers have been used on unruly schoolchildren, unarmed mentally disturbed or intoxicated subjects, and those who were fleeing a minor crime scene. Also, reported victims of police tasering were people who do not follow the police office commands immediately. For example, 12-year old was tasered after fighting with another student on a school bus, and a 14-year old Florida girl and there of her class mates were taser because of fighting (Amnesty International 2004).

It seems that today's police officer has converted to the old west mentally of shooting first and asking questions after the fact. This will be shown in this next case of a 40 ' year old man named Gregory Williams who is a double-leg amputee. According to Patton (2009), Mr. Williams and his wife were having a verbal argument and the police were called. When the police officers arrived at the William's apartment, the officers separated the couple. One officer talked to Mrs. Williams and the other talked to Mr. Williams who at the time was holding his two year daughter in his lap.

Officer Pinnegar informed Mr. Williams that he was under arrest for striking his wife, then Officer Pinnegar tasered him in the ribs. Mr. Williams was then pulled back into his wheelchair by the officer very hard, and was tasered a second time. Williams fell out of his chair and his shorts fell off his body; he was handcuff and left on the sidewalk with his genitals exposed for about ten minutes.

The next abusive use of tasers was against a Louisiana man what was wanted by police for cocaine charges. This case will show the excessive use of a taser on a suspect; however this suspect was already in handcuffs. The Winnfield police had an arrest warrant for Baron 'Scooter' Pikes and were going to arrest him, however the arrest was completed when Officer Nugent became over zealous with the use of his taser, and Mr. Pikes, who did not get to his feet quick enough for the officer.

Griffin & Fitzpatrick (2008) reported than the Louisiana State Police officer tasered 21 ' year old Baron 'Scooter' Pikes nine times after Mr. Pikes was on the ground and handcuffed. The suspect had stopped twitching after seven jolts of 50,000 volts. Soon after, Pikes was dead. Dr. Randolph Williams, the Winn Parish coroner, ruled Pikes death as a homicide in June after an extensive study.

Safeguards Against Misuse of Tasers

Law enforcement agencies all over America, Canada, and other countries are adopting tasers as their less than lethal weapon of choose. This weapon gives the officer 21 feet to incapacitate a suspect at a safe distance. However the main concern is to ensure that officers do not become over zealous with this weapon and causes serious injury or death to the civilian population. The public is seeing and hearing more and more of police officers misusing this new weapon instead of using it when all other alternatives have failed.

The aspect of the misuse is when officers use the technology on children under 18 ' years of age, elderly, and handicap persons; and on regular citizen who are not showing a violent nature toward the officer. Anonymous (2009) indicated that the Nevada Legislature is proposing a bill that all tasers issued to law enforcement be equipped with a camera. The bill will also include that the use of the taser is only to be used on people who have committed a felony, or who endanger themselves or others.

The U. S. Supreme Count has three rules to justify the use of a taser; 'the severity of the crime', 'whether the suspect posed a serious threat to the officer', and 'whether the suspect was evading or resisting arrest' (Rubin & Winton, 2009, p 3). These rules were put in place from previous cases because the stun gun dispenses a measurable level of force.

According to Farrell (2009) The California Federal Court has ruled that a California police officer was not immune from civil litigation resulting from questionable use of the controversial weapon. So, therefore, civil remedies are established

This ruling was set after a Coronado police officer used his taser on a motorist after stopping him for not wearing a seat belt' Although the driver showed irrational behavior the officer should have used more intrusive means to take control of the situation. This non lethal weapon needs to be classified in the same way that the officer's firearm, pepper spray, and nightstick. Each one of the weapons has rules that guide the officer when the weapon needs to be used; these rules should apply to the taser.

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Taser International Inc. has developed a data port download kit that helps law enforcement officers to have accurate documentation on the use of the taser by their officers by recording the date and time when the officer fired the taser. They also have the camera attachment that records images and voice for the officer can use this data if accused of misuse. (Rose, 2007), these new attachments my not be affordable for some of the smaller departments, and the officers may believe it is not necessary to have because of confidence that their department policy will protect them from litigation.

The International Association of Chiefs of Police (IACP), and Police Executive Research Forum (PERF) provided guide lines for the increasing police use of the weapon and the concern of risks and liability. These organizations have developed these guidelines to help the police department's development policies, procedures, and training curricula (Rose, 2007). (See the nine strategies in the Appendix). Each of the nine strategies help address issues that will affect the use of tasers by law enforcement officers. These strategies put emphases on training, testing, and safety for the public.

The IACP recommends when a police department plans to acquire electronic defense weapons that they should form a leadership team comprised of management, training, policy, field, and budget staff. The team should additionally include members of the community and media representatives; legal counsel, medical practitioners and representatives of the governing or oversight body (Rose, 2007).

The team will help to assess any issue that may arise in the acquisition of the cost, training, liability and evaluation. The taser should be placed in the use of force continuum with guidelines for police officers on the degree of force that is appropriate when responding to the subject (Rose, 2007). A leadership team within a police department will be able to help the individual police officers to remain up to date on new training procedures, new laws created on the use of tasers, and medical training in case of a medical emergency.

The leadership team would be able to review each case when a taser is discharged and to give recommendations of whether the officer needs additional training or if the officer was within the department policy. The leadership team would be able to make a fair assignment on the cost and benefit of the police department having tasers as their secondary defense weapon. The police department and the officers need to be held accountable for the uses of electronic defense devices. Each police officer should be given clearly defined rules and protocols, and relevant and reliable information about the new technology.

The police department additionally should gain public acceptance of the new weapons and should implement a community outreach program to inform the people of their community. The community members should be informed of the tasers capability and its effective goal as an alternative of deadly force, the benefit of its cost, and the goal to reduce officer and suspect injury. All police officers should have some emergency medical training to be a first responder in case a suspect has medical problems after being struck by the taser, and in the removal of the darts form sensitive areas. A medically trained officer could provide any medical attention such a CPR, monitoring the suspect while in custody, and assist in transporting the victim to the nearest hospital or clinic.


In conclusion, although the taser has been developed as a defense weapon many police officers have made it their primary weapon of choice and use it inappropriately. The misuse of the weapon has the public and the media concerned about whether or not the attitude of today's police officers are serving and protecting the public properly. or are officers using this new defensive weapon to punish people who break the law and who are non-violent just to show them use is in charge.

This type of behavior from police officers are causing a lot of concern not only from the communities they serve, but also from the manufacturers that have developed and supply these less-than-lethal weapons to law enforcement agencies. The International Association of Chiefs of Police and the Police Executive Research Forum have produce guidelines for the law enforcement agencies to follow when a police department decides to add the tasers to their non lethal weapon storehouse.


Adams, K., & Jennison, V.'(2007). What we do not know about police use of Tasers(TM).'Policing,'30(3),'447-465.

Amnesty International, (2004a). Concerns about Taser users. Amnesty International Continuing Concerns about Taser Use. http:www.amnestyusa.org/print.php.

Amnesty International, (2004b). Excessive and lethal force. Deaths and Ill-treatment Involving Police use of Tasers. http:www.amnestyusa.org/print.php.

Anonymous, (2009,'October').'Use of Force: Are cameras on Tasers on the horizon? Law Enforcement

Delong, G., & Thompson, L. (2009). The application and use of tasers by a Midwestern police agency.

International Journal of Police Science & Management, 11 (4), 414-428.

Farrell, B. M. (2009,'December'30). Federal court in California limits police use of Tasers: The appeals court ruling could raise the bar for when the electric stun-guns can be deployed. Local police departments said the ruling puts officers' lives in danger. The Christian Science Monitor. ProQuest document ID: 1930343011,

Griffin, D., & Fitzpatrick, D. (2008, July 22). Man Dies after Cop Hits Him with Taser 9 Times.


Lee,'B.,'Vittinghoff,'E.,'Whiteman,'D.,'Park,'M.,'Lau,'L.,'&'Tseng,'Z. (2009). Relation of Taser (Electrical Stun Gun) deployment to increase in in-custody sudden deaths.'The American Journal of Cardiology,'103(6),'877-880.

MacDonald, J., Kaminski, R., & Smith, M. (2009). The effect of non-lethal weapons on injuries in police use-of-force events. American Journal of Public Health, 99 (22), 2268-2274

Patton, A. V. (2009,'September). Merced police used Taser on unarmed, legless man in a wheelchair.'McClatchy - Tribune Business New. Pg. 1-7

Rose, V., (2007, January). Taser use guidelines, liability (law): Police department weapons

liability, legal, police. OLR Research Report. Retrieved on 18, April 2010.

Rubin, J & Winton, R. (2009, December 30). Federal court restricts police taser use; the ruling--- allowing a man to sue officer for his injuries'may spur agencies to rewrite use- of- force policies. Los Angeles Times. Pg. A. 3


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