Tasers and torture

By Scott Tibbs, December 03, 2007

A CBS News headline and the opening paragraph of the story present two very different takes on the controversy surrounding the use of the Taser, an weapon that uses a electical charge to subdue combative and/or uncooperative suspects. The headline screams "U.N.: Tasers Are A Form Of Torture". The opening paragraph simjple states "A United Nations committee said Friday that use of Taser weapons can be a form of torture." (Emphasis mine.) Obviously, "can be" is very different from "are", and sensationalistic headlines do little to inform the readers of CBSNews.com.

Yes, Tasers can be a form of torture, if officers use them to force compliance rather than as one part of a continum of force. There have been cases where Tasers have been misused, such as in the case of a Lawrence County man who died after being Tasered by a guard in the Monroe County Jail. The police officer in Utah who used a Taser on a completely nonviolent offender during a traffic stop also represents a case of the Taser being overused. Law enforcement personnel need to be trained in the use of the Taser, and many departments have taken the step of requiring that officers be subjected to a Taser before they are allowed to carry one.

However, calls to ban the Taser are premature. It is not the weapon that is the problem, it is overly aggressive or untrained law enforcement personnel. An electric shock is certainly less likely to be lethal than a bullet. It would take significantly less time to heal from the trauma caused by electric shock than broken bones or other injuries brought on by the use of a baton. Any weapon can be misused, overused or poorly used, and the Taser is no exception. Law enforcement should not abandon the use of a valuable tool because of political pressures.

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