Tuesday, July 29, 2014

A Shocking Proposal: Tasers for Colombian Cops

Cops on patrol today on San Victorino Plaza in Bogotá. They appeared to be carrying regular pistols.
Colombian media are asking whether the 'electric pistols', commonly known as tasers, are dangerous. Colombian police use some of the devices and may buy more of them.
Israel Hernandez, a Colombian-American
who died last August after being
tasered by police in Miami Beach.

The answer obviously is 'yes,' but that's the wrong question. Nothing is perfectly safe, particularly a device designed to incapacitate violent criminals by causing them pain.

And police will use some dangerous device, whether billy clubs, tasers or regular guns. The right question to ask is whether tasers are better than the alternative.

Tasers have a bad image here, and perhaps rightly so, because last August Israel Hernandez, an 18 year-old Colombian-American graffiti artist was killed in Miami Beach by a police taser charge.

A taser.
Hernandez's death was a tragedy. However, in August 2011 another young Colombian grafitero, Diego Felipe Becerra, died in Bogotá after police chased and shot him with a real gun. Becerra would probably be alive today if those cops had been using a taser.

According to Amnesty International since 2001 500 people in the United States have been killed by electric stun guns. Every one of those deaths is a tragedy. But every year tens of thousands of people in the U.S. are killed by firearms. If those were replaced by tasers, almost all of those people would have survived.

Bogotá graffiti artist Diego Felipe Becerra, 
shot to death in 2011 by police firearms. 
Any weapon can be deadly. I'm sure that many people have been killed with billy clubs. But tasers will more likely be used in place of real guns. For all the dangers of tasers, real guns are much more dangerous, not only to the suspect, but also to bystanders. A bullet can kill or injure someone hundreds of meters away. Miss with a taser charge and nothing happens.

According to a police study cited by Wikipedia, taser use reduced police deaths by 75%. The Taser company's website claims that their products have saved 128,000 lives and counting. I wonder how they came up with that number. However, if I were a youth being chased, rightly or wrongly, by police, I'd much prefer they carried electric pistols than ones with bullets in them.

Bogotá cops: better off with firearms,
electric pistols, or both?
And, if I were a cop, I'm sure I'd prefer an electric pistol to a real gun except in extreme situations. Say you're called to a tavern where a drunk construction worker is throwing chairs at the walls. You can't get close enough to club or tackle him. You could try to shooting him in the arm, but you might miss and kill him or another patron. And shooting a suspect would surely mean an investigation and newspaper headlines. So, you pull out your electric pistol and immobilize the guy, at minimal risk to other bar patrons.

Another danger of real guns was highlighted by the ongoing scandal over the importation of thousands of Sig Sauer pistols, apparently in violation of German law. Some of those pistols were stolen before police even received them - meaning that criminals are likely using them today to rape, robbery or even murder. I'd much rather that those criminals get their hands on tasers - which fire only one to three times and which the bad guys probably wouldn't even know how to use - than real guns.

It's amazing to me, too, how the potentially illegal purchase of tens of thousands of deadly real guns and the theft of some of them, produced little news, while the purchase of a few hundred electric stun guns has generated a firestorm. It's a testament to how blasé society has become about the proliferation of firearms.

By Mike Ceaser, of Bogotá Bike Tours


D Lee said...

Although their police officers have requested them, the cities of San Francisco & Berkeley (California) still do not allow their cops to use tasers.


Miguel said...

I wonder what kind of weapons the cops there are carrying instead of tasers? Regular pistols? Billy clubs?