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Palo Alto community not ready for tasers

Original post made by Jeff Blum on Jan 30, 2007

I considered the Taser issue before, as a member of the city's Human Relations Commission. Police Chief Lynne Johnson mentioned a few years ago that she might someday want Tasers for use by the police. She recognized then that Tasers were fairly new, not fully tested and controversial, and that more information was needed about their effectiveness and dangers. She has since asked for approval for a state grant to help purchase Tasers if the city decides to do so. If Tasers aren't approved by the city, the funds could be transferred to other front-line equipment, such as upgrading guns, she said.

I recall breathing a sigh of relief when she said she would not immediately ask the City Council to approve acquiring Tasers. We had enough on our plate with calls for independent panels to conduct oversight of police actions, our review of police interrogation practices and our need to address allegations of police racial profiling.

But Tasers are b-a-a-ck, and I am liberated to speak about them. So here are some questions that the folks on the newly appointed Taser Task Force might add to their lists, if they are not already there:

Have Tasers become safer in the past few years? An investigative report by the New York Times several years ago raised serious questions about the safety claims of the company that sold Tasers.

The Weekly did a cover story that raised some of the same concerns ("Shock value," July 28, 2004 -- Web Link 2004_07_28.taser28.shtml).

So far as I know Tasers are not any safer now than they were then.

Would the possession and use of Tasers by the police be consistent with our image as a city known for inclusiveness and compassion? I have heard that Tasers are often used on the mentally ill who do not respond to reasonable police efforts to stop their misconduct.


I have also heard that pregnant women and people with heart conditions are among those who are most susceptible to being killed or seriously injured by Tasers.


Additionally, I have heard that Tasers have been used on people who did not pose a serious physical risk. On the other hand, in his book called Crazy, which explores the woeful state of our country's mental health system, former Washington Post reporter Pete Earley, quoted several police officers who claimed that using Tasers kept them from having to kill several people during high-risk confrontations.


Are other cities the size of Palo Alto and with similar crime problems obtaining Tasers? If so, what motivated them to purchase them? Given our crime rate I question the need for our police to have Tasers at this time.


Are there reasonable alternatives to acquiring Tasers? What about using nets on unruly criminal suspects? How about training and using more crisis negotiators?


How do our police officers and citizens feel about Tasers? Perhaps our city auditor, or the task force, should conduct a survey to learn the answer.


How reliable and consistent are electrical discharges from Tasers?


What is the track record of the company selling the Tasers?


Is it possible for the city to do a liability risk assessment before deciding whether to acquire Tasers?


If the police obtained Tasers under what circumstances would they be used?


Tasers do not appear to be ready for prime time, and they do not appear to fit with our city's image as a place known for its compassion and sensitivity.

My guess is that I will now forever be known in some circles as a compassionate softy, but the questions are real and deserve a hard-headed examination.

Comments (18)

Posted by John, a resident of Adobe-Meadows
on Jan 30, 2007 at 1:50 pm

I would like to say first of all, the section on the right hand side of paloaltoonline.com says "Today's top posts." I thought this was reserved for posts that obtain the most comments, but obviously that is not the case. It seems like it is more hot button issues where people who have no idea what they are talking about like to be heard.
I quote."I have heard that Tasers are often used on the mentally ill who do not respond to reasonable police efforts to stop their misconduct. I have also heard that pregnant women and people with heart conditions are among those who are most susceptible to being killed or seriously injured by Tasers. Additionally, I have heard that Tasers have been used on people who did not pose a serious physical risk. On the other hand, in his book called Crazy, which explores the woeful state of our country's mental health system, former Washington Post reporter Pete Earley, quoted several police officers who claimed that using Tasers kept them from having to kill several people during high-risk confrontations. Are other cities the size of Palo Alto and with similar crime problems obtaining Tasers? If so, what motivated them to purchase them? Given our crime rate I question the need for our police to have Tasers at this time."

I have heard, I have heard, I have heard. The facts please. I have personally heard that coke will dissolve a nail, and that hotdogs are made of earthobyte, which is earthworms. The fact of the matter is that a taser is a TOOL. The tasers proposed for the city of Palo Alto would have cameras thus allowing a review board to determine whether or not the tool should have been used if the topic arises. Yes, Los Altos, Menlo Park, Mountain View, San Jose, Sunnyvale, and others ALREADY have tasers. There are many law suits around the country where departments are being sued for not having tasers. The tasers would not be used on people who simply do not comply, but rather those who do not comply and are combative. When have you ever heard of a taser being used on a pregnant woman, give me a break.

YOU ENTRUST OUR OFFICERS WITH A OC SPRAY, VICIOUS DOGS, A PEPPER THAT THEY SPRAY INTO PEOPLE'S EYES, A SHOTGUN, A M-16, AND A DUTY WEAPON AND ARE CONFIDENT WITH THEIR DISCRETION ON WHEN TO USE IT, BUT YOU DON'T WANT TO ENTRUST THEM WITH A TASER, BECAUSE YOU FEEL THEY WILL MISUSE IT? c'mon pz I have been both tased and pepper sprayed and would choose the tase anyday over the spray. :P


Posted by John, a resident of Adobe-Meadows
on Jan 30, 2007 at 1:56 pm

Additionally, you mention that given the crime in Palo Alto you don't feel it is the right time to get it. So are you going to wait for the time when you feel we should have had it, and then decide to get it? I would rather be proactive for problems than reactive, but unfortunately laws are generally due to something that has already happened rather than taking proactive measures.


Posted by Jamie, a resident of Evergreen Park
on Jan 30, 2007 at 2:17 pm

"My guess is that I will now forever be known in some circles as a compassionate softy."

Jeff...yep!

So Palo Alto of you. You need to take some drive alongs with the cops. You might, heaven forbid, even need to defend the police in public and (even worse) among your own friends over Chardonay and Brie.


Posted by Dave, a resident of Palo Alto Hills
on Jan 30, 2007 at 2:27 pm

TASERS SAVE LIVES EVERYDAY

Look at the rates of injury and death among LEO's and thugs before and after LEA's get TASERs. THEY ALWAYS GO DOWN.

Look at the cost of workman's compensation costs for cities that aquire TASER technology. THEY GO DOWN.


Posted by Tim, a resident of Crescent Park
on Jan 30, 2007 at 3:50 pm

Bring on the Tasers- they are long over due!! Would you rather be taser or shot? Or how about just doing what the officer says- the choice is yours.


Posted by Larry, a resident of Barron Park
on Jan 30, 2007 at 3:56 pm

I am sicking tired of these people who argued taser is dangerous tool. The whole debate is baseless, and even arrogant. We need to listen to professionals(which is police), not Amnesty Internationl. Equip taser to LEA is not an option, it is a must. Offices life and safety is not a subject of debate. [Portion removed by Palo Alto Online staff.]


Posted by Ralph P, a resident of Palo Alto Hills
on Jan 31, 2007 at 3:10 am

If you look at the composition of the city's Human Relations Commission you realize that the recommendations are predetermined. If you stack the commission with liberals, the Police Department doesn't have a chance.


Posted by david taylor - palo alto, a resident of Ventura
on Jan 31, 2007 at 4:17 am

"The fact of the matter is that a taser is a TOOL"

A very weak fact. You could also state that "a Taser is a THING", but neither of these statements is specific enough to distinguish a Taser from a calculator and so only serve to obscure the discussion. What distinguishes a Taser from other tools is that it is intended for use in combat to incapacitate. In short, the real fact of the matter is that a Taser is a WEAPON. Any attempt to avoid that characterization of Tasers is not truly dealing with facts, and the motivation for such avoidance should be questioned.

"There are many law suits around the country where departments are being sued for not having tasers."

Can you please provide a pointer to a few of these? I haven't read of any, couldn't find any mention on taser.com, and would like to find out if they are as numerous as the lawsuits resulting from using Tasers.

"The tasers would not be used on people who simply do not comply, but rather those who do not comply and are combative."

Exactly wrong.

When the police chief first announced her intention to deploy Tasers she stated that the policy will likely be to use Tasers:

"to safely subdue a person who wasn't complying with directions from an officer,"
Web Link

In this round of the push for Tasers, the city manager says he and the police chief are still working on a policy. They have NOT publicly backed away from the original policy proposal.

"When have you ever heard of a taser being used on a pregnant woman, give me a break."

Relax - I got your break for you, right here:

Dec. 15, 2001
In Chula Vista CA, police shocked a 36-year-old pregnant woman in the back for refusing to follow orders. At the hospital, fetal heart sounds were heard during the examination. Two days later, an exam revealed that the fetus 6-month-old fetus had died.
Web Link

Nov. 23, 2004
When a Seattle police officer presented a speeding ticket to Malaika Brooks (8 months pregnant), she refused to sign it. Police then struggled to get Brooks out of her car but could not because she kept a grip on her steering wheel. So they Tasered her (3 times, on thigh and neck according to police, but she also showed arm burns). She delivered a healthy girl Jan. 31.
Web Link

Sept. 29, 2006
County sheriffs in Kansas reported that as a deputy was arresting Tianesha Robinson (18-20 weeks pregnant) during a traffic stop, she got free from a handcuff and ran off before being chased down. Because she didn't comply with an order to pull her hand from underneath her, the deputy pushed the barrel of the stun gun once against the side of her abdomen and twice against her back. A month later she suffered a miscarriage.
Web Link

These came up after only a cursory search, so there's probably far more. I wonder will the Task Force do their homework...






Posted by david taylor, a resident of Ventura
on Jan 31, 2007 at 5:41 am

"Look at the rates of injury and death among LEO's and thugs before and after LEA's get TASERs. THEY ALWAYS GO DOWN."

WRONG - DEAD WRONG.

After Tasers were fully deployed in San Jose in 2004 the number of fatal shootings by police dramatically spiked to near record levels - after a steady five-year decline! Within five months of deployment, San Jose police had fatally shot three people: more than they fatally shot in all of 2002 and 2003 combined. During 1990-2000, San Jose police averaged 2.5 fatal shootings annually. Five people were fatally shot by police in 2004 - twice the average and near a ten-year peak.

In 2005, in addition to two fatal shootings by police, there were now two deaths in custody of people who were Tasered.

This contradiction of expectations has led San Jose community organizations that initially supported Tasers to become the most vocal critics.

And the San Jose experience with Tasers is not an anomaly.
Cincinnati also found that Tasers (which the ACLU had initially supported) made things worse. The ACLU pointed out that total use-of-force incidents reported by Cincinnati police
consistently increased almost every quarter, rising from 186 incidents in the first reporting period of the review to 277 incidents for the second quarter of this year. Houston is the latest to report that shootings have not decreased, while overall use of force has increased.

It's instructive to note that while claims are made here that the Taser solves a myriad of problems (false or unsubstantiated claims), the police chief has yet to reveal what problem she thinks Tasers will solve. So why do we have a Task Force to decide if Tasers are the right solution for a problem that has yet to be defined? Something is going on that doesn't seem quite kosher...it seems either half-assed backward - or deliberately deceptive...or both.


Posted by Mark, a resident of Esther Clark Park
on Jan 31, 2007 at 9:07 am

David, I am worried about your statement. Can you move your version a bit wider? Did that have any connection between taser use and increase of gun shooting? (provide link, and fact, or reasoning). Taser might be here to solve your gun shooting concern not opposite.

And regarding the case/links you provide about taser pregnant, etc, the courts always cleared taser or police from wrongdoing. So I don't quite follow your points.

Task force, to me, is purely waste of taxpayer's money created to stir up mud, to provide political stage for some political actors to performance.

I don't follow your view at all.


Posted by David, a resident of Charleston Meadows
on Jan 31, 2007 at 10:22 am

Here is latest link from Google about a family lost their loved one, which taser might be able to save.

Web Link

While people are losing their life, our task force is still debating for Amnesty Int's pleasure?

I DON'T UNDERSTAND!!!!!


Posted by Matt, a resident of Palo Alto Hills
on Jan 31, 2007 at 10:43 am

taser can't kill, ignorance and idealogy can kill.


Posted by Boohoohoo, a resident of Juana Briones School
on Jan 31, 2007 at 4:37 pm

Local law enforcement agencies using the TASER often train officers to use the weapon by actually shocking each other.

The use of the TASER on each other in training is meant to prove to the police officers that the weapon does not cause serious injury or permanent damage. For some officers, however, the TASER shock cripples them and they are left permanently damaged by the "non-lethal" stun gun.

One severely injured deputy from Utah relates what happened to him on a website for TASER-injured police officers:

"Let me tell you my experience with the TASER. I worked for 16 years as a deputy/paramedic in Davis County, Utah. We had TASER training, in which the trainers said it was a highly recommended to take a hit. They also said there was no worry as to injury, because the TASER wouldn't harm or cause any long term medical problems.

I had a 5-second ride. It was the worst experience in my life. To make a long story short, the TASER ruptured C-5,6 and C-6,7 in my neck. I have had to have my neck fused, because of the severe pain. I also have nerve damage, which has left my left triceps, chest, and back muscle paralyzed. Not to mention I can't feel with the first three fingers including my thumb and trigger finger on my right hand. They feel like fat little stumps.

I was able to bench press 350 lbs. and do push-ups all day. Now I can't do 1 push-up, and I can't even bench press the bar! I scored in the top of the physical fitness test at the department and got a day off, now I can't even pass the fitness test.

The Davis County Sheriff's department has turned its back on me. I've been fired from work for B.S. reasons. I'm on disability now, and I have to retrain in something else, at 43-years-old. It turns my stomach to think of going back to school.

My suggestion to all officers is NOT TO TAKE A HIT FROM THE TASER. You probably won't have any problems, but then again I thought that also and look what has happened to me.

Don't take the chance – it's not worth it."


Posted by Just the Facts Please, a resident of Green Acres
on Feb 1, 2007 at 10:59 am

Let's assemble facts, document them and present them to the Taser committee. Let's use a long view also in the assembly of information: how many people are killed by the use of (a) guns with bullets and (b) tasers: in the USA, in CA, in towns similar to Palo Alto in size and economic composition? What percentage of communities allow guns but not tasers in their policing?

Is the purpose of tasers to reduce death from gun usage?

If it is legal for a citizen to carry tasers, why would a community prevent its police from using the same.


Posted by ROBERT, a resident of Charleston Meadows
on Feb 2, 2007 at 9:19 am

Do they no teach logic in school anymore? For those against tazers, citing the statistical outlier only serves to muddy the waters of collective community understanding. Yes, I could probably find many examples on the internet of police shooting the wrong person or police crashing their cars into innocent people, but no sane person would consider taking guns from the police and making them walk to your emergency call for help. Did you know that citizens can own and possess tazers? I think the issue boils down to trust. Do we trust that the police will use their tools properly and with good judgment? For those who do not know, the Palo Alto Police Department is significantly more selective in their hiring practice and provides significantly more training than the majority of other police agencies. This means better cops, who are better trained than the ones cited in negative press.


Posted by Mark, a resident of Stanford
on Feb 3, 2007 at 9:08 pm

One aspect of the Taser which I have not heard being discussed- but should be- is the mandatory use of the TaserCam system, which incorporates a camera at the base of the Taser unit, if Tasers are implemented into the local law enforcement system. It provides a clear video of up to 1.5 hours, with audio. This helps satisfy concerns of Taser abuse, and provides important criminal evidence for the police department during prosecution.

One of the problems with the many news reports of Taser use is that we don't really know the full story behind the situation. Police Officers cannot tell their side of the story without capturing the scene with a recording system. In this day and age, Police Officers shouldn't have to remain silent when technology can exonerate them.


Posted by Nicky, a resident of Midtown
on Feb 8, 2007 at 4:03 am

When the issue of tasers was raised again recently by Council, the issue did not seem to be whether Palo Alto should have tasers or not; it was whether Palo Alto should apply for a grant to fund the purchase of the tasers. I got the distinct feeling this whole issue was about money. The forming of the taser committee is a political move on the part of Council who can conveniently move the decision making process onto a group of citizens.

I would have preferred that the issue of tasers for Palo Alto had been kept on the back burner for another couple of years because it is so controvercial. We should let our neighboring cities use them first to get a feel for the public's reaction.

But, true to form, our Council never saw a grant they didn't want to apply for.


Posted by Enoch Choi, a resident of Crescent Park
on Mar 27, 2007 at 8:40 am

As a member of the task force, after reviewing the questions presented by the public, I prepared some answers to the public's questions in anticipation of tonight's meeting:
Web Link

Comments are welcome there.

Enoch Choi, MD


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