Have police done enough to improve their service to the community?

Cameron Yong/HIGHLANDER
Cameron Yong/HIGHLANDER

The problem of law enforcement abusing its power is one that many American citizens have either read about or seen in the news lately. Many people, including myself, have even had personal run-ins with police officers who overstep their boundaries and infringe on our rights.

However, some citizens may rightfully respect policemen for taking a role of sacrifice and danger. After all, the nature of their job constantly puts them in stressful situations, often with life-or-death consequences.

But recent local events have caused the Riverside Police Department to reconsider its strategies and tactics when responding to threatening situations. After the respective deaths of David Ledezma and Hector Jimenez at the hands of police officers in the past two years, members of the Community Police Review Commission took it upon themselves to examine these two shootings of men holding a knife and pipe, respectively.

Assistant Chief Chris Vicino stated, “We self examine these events as we should, and if we need to add equipment, if we need to add training, if we need to change tactics, we should do that. It doesn’t cast doubt (on the past). It means we can get better.” If the Riverside Police Department can follow through on Vicino’s promise to properly train the force in taser usage by Jan. 1, things can definitely get better. However, the current solution they are choosing comes with a whole new set of problems in itself.

As a way to introduce less-lethal responses to oncoming attackers, all uniformed officers will now be required to carry tasers. But if the police force thinks this will be an absolute improvement over firearms, then they are sadly mistaken. In many cases around the country and the world, even tasers have either killed or rendered people incapacitated.

One recent incident happened last September in Florida when 267-pound Trooper Daniel Cole tasered 20- year-old and 100-pound Danielle Maudsley in the back as she ran away in handcuffs. Maudsley clearly presented no threat to Cole as she was already handcuffed and arrested and he could have simply caught up to her without use of excessive force. Maudsley definitely escalated this situation by fleeing, but tasering her was a more than excessive response. As a result of being tasered from a close distance, Maudsley fell to the concrete and suffered crippling brain damage. Instead of rightfully going to jail and serving fair time for her crimes, Maudsley ended up dying from her injuries.

Unfortunately, this situation is just one of hundreds that have occurred since the introduction of tasers to police forces in the 2000s. In a shocking study done by Amnesty International, it was reported that the number of deaths in America connected to tasers from 2001 until 2013 totaled 540. Although this number is about equal to the number of people killed by police shootings per year, it is still far too many. In the report, Amnesty International stated, “Most of those who died after being struck by a taser were not armed and did not appear to pose a serious threat when the taser was deployed.” This is perhaps the most telling part of the study, as tasers present a very slippery slope in which officers may not realize how much damage these alternative weapons can actually deal.

If all 540 of these deaths were unintentional but still happened, it’s difficult to imagine how tasers can continue to be seen as non-lethal or less-lethal than the standard-issue firearms that police already carry. The evidence shows that tasers can cause cardiac arrest and temporary paralysis, which in turn lead to additional health complications and consequences.

Any honest effort to fix a problem should be acknowledged, but when the effort just adds to the problem or makes it worse, that effort becomes useless. Riverside should make sure that officers fully understand tasers are not actually non-lethal weapons. Vicino stated that the department is going to add training and it’s only natural for the public to remain skeptical on whether there is enough time to properly train officers by the Jan. 1 deadline.

Furthermore, one has to wonder if there is even a proper way to train officers to use tasers as their powers can often be underestimated. Around the country, there is no standard measurement of taser usage to disarm an attacker so it is often up to each officer’s discretion in each particular situation.

Although a lot can go wrong with this newly equipped weapon, the public really has no choice but to hope for the best and trust officers to practice good judgment. A crucial way to train officers is to instruct them to only use the absolute minimal force on initial usage. If officers cannot render their target to be unthreatening, only then should they continue to direct more electric shocks at their threat. If any accidents or deaths occur from tasers, a police officer should definitely suffer serious consequences including, but not limited to, loss of their position. Because a taser is not intended to kill, a death resulting from a taser can be considered negligence and like any occupation, be cause for termination. If all these steps can be taken to train the police department, arming officers with tasers can be seen as a step forward for Riverside.

Sometimes, it doesn’t really matter what weapon or tools law enforcement has at its disposal. More often than not, what really matters is the character of each individual officer. If a corrupt policeman is going to abuse his power and bully citizens or college students, he can still do it with other weapons. However, it would be very unfortunate for the good and noble cops to accidentally kill somebody by using a taser. The police department and citizens both deserve a better solution than tasers. The accidents can be minimized by more thorough training and individuals using tasers in a savvy manner.

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