Nationally recognized crime expert tells Guns & Patriots that changes in law enforcement training over the past decade is directly related to excessive abuse of force and death by Taser.
“Law enforcement officers are using Tasers more and more without justification and people are dying,” said Suzanne McComas founder of ZZ Agency a private investigation firm that focuses on wrongful death suits and criminal defense cases involving self-defense.
Since Tasers have shown to be potential lethal weapons, she said we must re-think its use as an activity that might have lethal consequences. “Tasers are not a benign way to effectively shut-down a confrontational situation – as they were designed for – Tasers are killing people.”
Law enforcement is too quick to use Tasers and they are using them inappropriately, said the former military police officer. “We need to change the mindset of what this weapon is and what it is capable of doing.”
“There is a statistic that says 800 people died from Tasers since 2001,” she said. “Some of these individuals should not have been hit with a Taser in the first place.”
On Aug. 6 an eighteen year old male was shot and killed with a Taser by a Miami Beach police officer for allegedly resisting arrest after being confronted about spray painting on a public wall – a misdemeanor crime – and running away.
“An unarmed teenager running away does not authorize any type of weapon. If someone is not committing a crime that was causing harm to another human being, that type of force should not be authorized,” said McComas who is the owner of a non-profit group dedicated to the reduction of violence in families
On July 27 a ninety-five year old died after he was shot with a Taser and hit with bean bag pellets by Illinois police. “The man was shot at a nursing home, how bad could it have been?” she asked.
This type of force by law enforcement should be used only to protect themselves or someone else, she said. “When I was in law enforcement, if I would have shot a Taser at someone in a wheel chair, or a teenager, or someone high on drugs, I would have lost my job for excessive force.”
Most Taser deaths have been a result of multiple hits, she said. “If you hit someone and they don’t go down, you don’t keep shooting someone until they drop down in a cardiac arrest; that’s not what the Taser is designed to do.”
“Tasers were invented in the 1970s mainly as a response to the government’s request for a non-lethal weapon,” said McComas. “Initially developed for riot control, it incorporated itself into police departments in the 1980s as a non-lethal weapon that police could use in place of the handgun.”
Police departments would use Tasers to subdue combative, mentally ill suspects, or someone who is armed and dangerous, she said. “It was a good substitute for having an officer wrestled to the ground.”
Law enforcement is always looking for non-lethal options – a good alternative to the handgun, she said. “My friend who is a U.S. Marshall told me the Taser is a lifesaver.” They use the Taser to subdue suspects who are unlikely to be cooperative instead of shooting at them, she said. “A desperate fugitive who does not want to go back to prison is more likely to be combative.”
There was a time when Tasers were used in specific situations as an effective alternative to the handgun, but now its use is more common-place, said McComas who has been an investigator in private practice for over 20 years. “It is unacceptable for law enforcement to use Tasers as a matter of routine because somebody is not complying.”
Over the last ten years training standards have changed and the trend of law enforcement is to take the easy-way-out, she said. “Officers are not as willing to step-into a confrontation, to talk to people, or attempt to subdue them in some other way; they don’t seem to have the patience.”
“Twenty years ago law enforcement were of the mind-set you had to talk to somebody, give them a chance to calm down, give them a chance to listen to reason, hear them out and use the time it might take to mitigate the situation,” said the U.S. Army veteran.
In order to correct some of the problems, she said law enforcement agencies as a whole first must redo their training standards to outline when it is appropriate to use a Taser; then they have to implement those standards. “When someone doesn’t follow the training, there must be legal consequences – they must be held liable.”
“We can lessen the impact of Tasers by reducing the amount of voltage or by limiting the shot to one hit,” said McComas who is the author of four books. “Or a better product needs to be developed that we know for a fact does not have the potential to cause death.”
While she realizes law enforcement is a very dangerous job, she said she also realizes there must be balance. “Officers need to be a little more hesitant and a little more informed about the possibility that using Tasers may cause death.”
The pendulum should swing back to a time when officers were instructed and trained to not pull in a matter of seconds, she said. “We need to look at the Taser as a possible lethal weapon.”
When she was trained in law enforcement, she said the rule of thumb for handling a weapon is simple: “Don’t pull it unless you intend to aim it; don’t aim it unless you intend to fire it; don’t fire it unless you intend to kill someone at the other end of the bullet.”
“That was the mindset that we had 24 hours a day, seven days a week,” said McComas. “We never prepared our weapons unless we had every intention of taking someone’s life with it because we absolutely had no other choice.”