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Time for a moratorium on taser use

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People who blithely support using tasers on high school students -- or, for that matter, on anyone who isn't threatening a life -- must not know what being tasered is like.

What else could explain thinking it's appropriate to deal with a 14-year-old female student brandishing a belt by shooting her with 50,000 volts of electricity, causing immediate, overwhelming pain? Being on the receiving end of a taser isn't like sticking your finger in a light socket, as bad as that is. Having 50,000 volts of direct current run through your body for five seconds delivers a jolt so powerful it scrambles the neuro-body connections and shuts down your brain's ability to control your body. That's why you drop like a lead weight when you're struck. According to multiple firsthand accounts of the experience, including a couple of people I spoke with who have been tasered, the pain is indescribable.

"I've never felt pain like that," explained one person I spoke with who didn't want his name used. "My jaws locked, it was like my whole body was, I don't know, like I was on fire or something, but I felt a painful kind of numb, too. I'll put it this way: I hit my head pretty hard on concrete when I fell and, believe me, that was the least of my worries."

The Charlotte Mecklenburg Police Department says since its officers started using tasers, injuries to suspects are down 79 percent. I guess that depends on how you define "injury." People who are tasered may not have any visible injuries, like a broken nose or a black eye, but that kind of pain sure counts as an injury in my book. Just as importantly, far too little research has been done on the possible residual effects of having so much electricity going through someone's body.

What is known for sure, according to the Arizona Republic, is that in the past few years, 144 people have died after being tasered (often from a combination of the electrical shock and a previous medical condition).

At the very least, CMPD needs to tighten its guidelines for using tasers. Maybe take a lesson from the Matthews police force, which has decided not to use tasers on students.

Here's something you may not know: when Taser International first introduced the devices, the company promoted them as an alternative to using firearms in "last resort" situations, not as an aid in getting hard-to-handle but unarmed people under control. They were a way for police to avoid having to shoot violent, threatening suspects. Somehow I don't think the 14-year-old East Meck high school freshman qualifies, nor does the unarmed 17-year-old Garinger student tasered three days later. Police are, after all, supposed to be trained well enough and be in good enough shape to subdue unarmed suspects without shooting them -- or, it logically follows, without zapping 50,000 volts of electricity into them.

Documented evidence makes it pretty clear that too many police officers in the US are relying on tasers as a way to subdue uncooperative suspects. Remember the 75-year-old grandmother who was tasered by a Rock Hill officer last November? Have you heard about the nine-year-old girl in handcuffs in Tucson? How about the pregnant Illinois woman, tasered in her abdomen?

I'm not comparing the School Resource Officers who tasered high schoolers with those cases, nor with the idiots in the Lancaster County, SC, jailhouse who recently killed a violent inmate with six consecutive shocks from a taser. And yes, I'm fully aware that high schools aren't kindergartens and things can get rougher there than many parents want to admit. It's just that for a weapon touted so often as a "non-lethal alternative," tasers sure seem to be killing a lot of people.

Taser International's initial (and only) "research" involved zapping a pig and five dogs; the animals didn't die, so TI declared tasers safe. I'm not joking. That was the extent of their testing. Other subsequent research by various groups has been all over the map, from several police studies that said tasers are completely safe to a Department of Defense study that found tasers can cause heart damage.

Doubts about tasers' safety have led the International Association of Chiefs of Police to urge police everywhere to review their use of tasers. Chicago, Houston and Fort Wayne, IN, police forces are either abandoning or reconsidering their use. In the meantime, police officers in five states have filed lawsuits against TI claiming they suffered serious injuries after being tasered during training classes; and an increasing number of cities are being sued by people who claim being tasered caused a variety of medical problems.

To say the least, tasers are controversial weapons and are becoming more controversial all the time as injuries, deaths, misuse and lawsuits pile up. Considering all that, as well as the inconclusive nature of available research, the city should direct CMPD to quit using tasers until more definitive research has been conducted. Unless city leaders like being sued -- or being known as the place where a teenage tantrum can lead to a scene out of The Bride of Frankenstein.

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