Thursday, September 20, 2007

Protect and Serve, maybe not so much

I assume you've seen this:

Or this one?

And this? or this latest one from Warren Ohio? (these last two begin with CNN adds that you have to sit through. The first one you'll have to click on "Taser Catches Suspect, Officer" and that last one you'll have to click on "Officer on Leave Over Stun Gun", I can't link directly to the video or do an embedded video, though I expect it'll end up on youtube sooner or later).

What do all of these incidents have in common? Well, for one thing in each case, the individuals tazed were acting in a fairly obnoxious manner. In the embedded video of Andrew Meyer getting tasered during John Kerry's speech at the University of Florida, Meyer obviously went there looking for a confrontation. In the second video, Victoria Goodwin was uncooperative with police, she refused to halt her conversation and clearly exaggerated the situation to her mother on her cell phone. In the third video, Hollingsworth is major caliber batshit, and in the last one the women is an obnoxious, unruly drunk.

What else do they have in common? Well, massive overuse of force for one thing, to wit: repeated and excessive use of Tasers. And police officers that obviously either do not have an understanding of, or are ignoring, the the basic rules governing the use and escalation of force in law enforcement. I get the feeling that they are enjoying the amount of pain they are inflicting as well in a "Bastard, since you won't bow to my author-a-tee (best Cardman impression here), let's see how you like this!" manner.

Before I go any further, let me say that I have been on the receiving end of "non-lethal force," both pepper-spay and electronic stun guns. No, I didn't get taken down by campus police while disrupting a politician's speech, it happened as part of my training as military security forces and as a Navy Boarding Officer. To qualify to carry such weapons, and make no mistake they are weapons, you get the privilege of having them used on you. I've been pepper sprayed three times, and tasered once. Of the two, I'd have to say I'd rather be pepper sprayed - but this is a lot like getting your choice of torments in an inner circle of hell, both suck beyond all conception. Also, a word of advice - if you do get tasered, try to make sure you empty your badder first. No, I didn't piss myself, but I know people who have. It ain't pretty.

Moving on. I understand law enforcement. I trained in military law enforcement, and I trained with New York and New Jersey cops. I know a few police officers. And it's a dammed difficult and sometimes extremely dangerous job. But, the thing to remember is that cops are not above their fellow citizens, their job, first and always, is to "protect and serve." The cops in the above videos have forgotten that, and have allowed themselves to become thugs, enjoying the power they have over others. I'd be the last one to condemn an officer without the whole story, and obviously we're not getting the whole story from those little video clips, but we're getting enough. Rules of force, i.e. the rules governing the escalation of force, stipulate first and foremost that the officer use only the minimum force necessary to resolve the situation. Period. This is the first rule in any police department, military or civilian.

There is no excuse for the repeated tazing of Andrew Meyer, there were more than enough police present to remove him from the situation without use of a weapon (this is, of course, assuming you agree he should have been removed in the first place). Meyer was unarmed, he presented no physical threat to either the officers, the crowd, or Senator Kerry. His behavior was obnoxious, true, but there is no evidence of physical threat. Tazing, let alone repeated tazing, for what amounts to nothing more than heckling is way over the line.

Unless there is off-video evidence that Victoria Goodwin presented a threat, the same applies in her case. There were two officers present in the video, certainly more than enough to arrest a women on a cell phone. Of course, we didn't see her speeding or the events leading up to her traffic stop, the officers may have legitimately believed she was dangerous. But then why did they approach the car as if it were only a routine traffic stop? Something doesn't jib here.

I can see how court officers may have considered Hollingsworth a threat. I think a case can be made that the first taze was justified, but what came after was not. Use of disabling weapons, in close quarters during a struggle where you have more friendlies than hostiles is just plain stupid and dangerous, indeed one of the officers was hit by a fellow officer's weapon. But, and here's the crux, if Hollingsworth was a such a threat that he needed to be cuffed and have his head covered in mesh (to prevent spitting), why weren't his feet shackled? Believe me, when I say that I am in no way defending this asshole, but some forethought and common sense on law enforcement's part could have prevented this whole thing.

And then there's the drunk woman. Any beat cop knows he's going to have to deal with obnoxious violent drunks sooner or later. I've dealt with many in my time as Navy Shore Patrol or as the Duty Watch - I've gotten a few black eyes and bloody noses, but I've never had to taser anybody. We don't see the part leading up to how the cop got her into the back of the cruiser, but he did. Again, why were her feet not secured? Or her hands secured via cuffs to lock-down hard points? I can see at least two in the video. If the cop couldn't do this, because it presented a risk to himself since he was alone and awaiting backup, why put her in the cruiser in the first place? Again, it may be possible to justify the first taze because it appears she tried to kick the police officer when he opened the car door, thus presenting a threat (of course this begs the question of why he didn't go around to the other side and come at her head first). Once she had been removed from the vehicle, and back-up had arrived, there were more than enough officers present to get her into ankle restraints. That's why cops carry riot cuffs (the plastic zip-tie jobbers) in the first place. Hell, the first cop could have sat on her, considering how far his belly was hanging over his belt, I don't think she could have struggled much after that.

In each of these cases, the cops reached for their tazers as a first response. And this is becoming habit across the nation. It's a matter of I don't want to deal with you, so Zssspt! Especially in the first two videos above. And in this incident at Powell University. Understand, I am not calling for the removal of this tool from law enforcement, and I have no desire to make law enforement even more difficult than it already is. But, sooner or later we're going to need some strict federal rules governing the use of these weapons by law enforcement, with absolute strict accountability. For their own sake, cops need better and repeated training in the use of non-lethal force, and we need it mandated by law. But what we really need, are cops who have it pounded into their heads over and over and over that their job is to "protect and serve."


  1. Hm. My dad was a deputy sheriff (and a marine before that). I've never trained in law enforcement myself, so have no opinion on the use of Tazers and other weapons.

    My family background tells me to side with the po-po on this one, but being a weepy liberal and all, I have trouble doing so.

    I think this one of the very few issues on which I can honestly say I have no opinon because I'm not qualified to have one.

    Yeah, yeah, I know - alert the media.

  2. Janiece, knowing the limits of your knowledge is called wisdom.

    While I have some training in this area, I'm certainly not a police officer. I also realized on the the drive back from Anchorage tonight, that I should have included a paragraph in this post acknowledging the fact that these are but 4, 5 if you include the Powell College incident, out of how many hundreds of Tazer uses? And out of those hundreds, many saved the officer from injury, and maybe saved the arrestee from greater injury. Without non-lethal weapons, police have the option of no force, or deadly force with nothing in between. Tazers, Pepper spray give them options and that's a good thing. What bothers me, is the immediate use of non-lethal weapons without first using the no-force step when possible. In the post, the 2nd example, Victoria, the Officer clearly said "get out of the car or I'll tazer you." The Tazer was the first option for this guy period, and less force never occurred to him. The second officer never said, "Hey, Bob, she's not threatening us, why don't you trying talking to her?" Nope, first option szzzpt! And then again, and again. While I don't give much credence to the alarmist cries of we're living in a police state, I do see a trend towards security forces demanding instant compliance or there is a immediate use of force. This bothers me, and I think it is a disturbing trend.


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