‘When’ to Taser needs review

The Gazette Opinion Staff
Published: January 28 2014 | 12:01 am - Updated: 29 March 2014 | 2:45 am in
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The Gazette Editorial Board

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Tasers have come into common use by Iowa police officers in the last decade or so. More than 265 law enforcement agencies include them in their standard weapons. Their officers are trained on how to operate them. Trouble is, there is a lack of consistent training on when it’s appropriate to use them.

It’s a non-lethal or “less than lethal” weapon that allows officers to prevent serious injury to a suspect or themselves during a confrontation. Most often, they’re useful and reasonably safe in those situations. Tasers allow an officer the ability to stop an attacker as much as 15 to 20 feet away.

In Iowa, Taser use generally comes under a state law that restricts use of force to “reasonable” situations when it would be necessary to avoid an injury or death. But that’s it. There is no other law or standard for training about when it’s appropriate or ethical to use a Taser.

A recent Des Moines Register investigation found that at least eight lawsuits have been filed in Iowa in the last six years, alleging excessive or unnecessary forced by officers employing Tasers. Three of the cases involved people with mental disabilities, and two others with epilepsy or a seizure condition. They outlined clear questions about officer decisions.

While that may not seem like many cases compared to the frequent use of Tasers, they highlight situations where such force seems wrong, raise concerns about local government’s insurance protection and costs, and call attention to the lack of standard training on when to employ them.

Gerald Meyers, assistant director with the Iowa Division of Criminal Investigation, says he’s seen enough questionable use to justify a legislative review of Taser use, as state Sen. Tom Courtney of Burlington has called for.

We agree.

Tasers have proved effective, but like any weapon, they can be overused. Statewide training standards for “when” to use should be considered. State and regional police academies could be required to provide such instruction.

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