Wednesday, February 4, 2009

Are Tasers for fun or are the potentially lethal weapons?

That’s the question the ACLU of Wisconsin is asking the Chief of Police in Combined Locks, WI.

Police Chief Steve Wulgaert was shot with a Taser at a charity event on Tuesday to raise money for Special Olympics. After being shocked, the Chief said he felt like he was “kicked by a mule.” Creatively offering oneself up for a dunk tank or other mild forms of public embarrassment in the name of charity has a long history for public servants. But with deaths from police Tasering seemingly constant in the news (the most recent death was early this month in Stockton, CA), this is more haunting than funny.

“Tasers are not toys,” said Chris Ahmuty, ACLU of Wisconsin’s Executive Director. “They are potentially lethal, especially when used on the young, the elderly or people with medical conditions. And, as Chief Wulgaert’s experience confirms, they invariably cause excruciating pain. They should only be used as a last resort in controlling a suspect who poses a genuine threat to the safety of police officers or the public.”

The legal director of the ACLU of Wisconsin has been tracking Taser deaths, complaints and rule-making (good and bad) for years.

“The Wisconsin Law Enforcement Standards Board recommends that Tasers be used only to overcome ‘active resistance or its threat,’” said Larry Dupuis, “and generally forbid their use against verbal aggression, people who are running away, children and older persons, or persons engaged in peaceful civil disobedience. Offering to be shot by a Taser as a fundraiser trivializes the extreme pain and risk of death associated with Tasers. This trivialization fosters the cavalier attitude of some law enforcement officers who have used Tasers against helpless suspects and children.”

And while a live demonstration of Tasers is common in police training (YouTube is full of Taser training and prank videos), even the Taser manufacturer’s warning states that “[a]ny student with concerns over present or past medical conditions should refrain from voluntary exposure.” While the painful experience of being shot with a Taser may impress upon police trainees the need to use the device sparingly, shooting someone for charity has no legitimate law-enforcement purpose.

For media inquiries about Taser use, contact: Larry Dupuis, Legal Director, (414) 272-4032, ext. 12.