Wednesday, August 15, 2007


Doing some research for the next book and I ran across a reference to Amnesty International's 2006 study on Taser use. The reference claimed that AI had implicated the Taser in 152 deaths in the US. Hmmm... the paper itself was available, so I read it.

Does anybody read these things? Everyone reads the press release that blares the number 152, but who reads the actual paper? That number is not in any way related to the actual causes of death named by the coroners.

AI's definition by itself appears to be fishy. They seem to label any death preceeded by Taser use to be "Taser related" even if the death happened days later or even if a different cause of death was clearly listed. Hey, I was tased a couple of years ago. If I have a heart attack tomorrow will my name show up in Amnesty International's next report?

152... but only 23 actually listed the Taser as even a possible contributory cause of death. One of the actual cases states that the Taser may have contributed to the fatal abnormal heartbeat in addition to the other causes of meth and bleeding out from a cut wrist. Clearly the electrical stun device was the culprit. Sure.

So 152 is down to 23, except really only 7 had the cause of death listed as primarily taser. Seven in five years. In at least one of those the ME recanted, having put Taser down as a cause of death before actually performing the autopsy... but that's not mentioned in the report. Very few of the deaths mentioned in the report have much detail, but what detail there is tells a story. If a plaintiff's attorney in a case says the death was caused by Taser and the medical examiner says it was NOT the cause of death, AI still lists it. What about the case where it took three autopsies to get the result that AI wanted: "In all it took three autopsies to conclude that taser had been a contributory factor in his death."

I've seen this report cited for over a year. I finally read it. I have a hard time believing that anyone else who cites it has actually read it.

There's more there and it points to the gulf between people who want to fix the world from ignorance and those who deal with it. There is a difference between pain and injury. Every mechanical means that approaches the level of pain produced by the Taser risks injury- broken bones and dislocated joints. Compare that to two 1/4" pin pricks (not two inches of penetration, as the report says).

The report says ..."tasers in dart firing mode may be a preferable alternative to deadly force..." May be? WTF? Here, more than anywhere, the agenda might show. Killing with a gun is old hat, comfortable tradition. Hurting with a new device, even if it saves lives (and it saves thousands, I've saved one myself and so I might be biased- everyone has an agenda. Even me.) that is new and scary. This isn't about force or government power or corruption or even rights. Just like the Inquisition, this is about making sure that the status quo is preserved. Though it often gets labeled as 'liberal' AI is conservative in the true sense of the word- terrified of change.

There is more there, some truly awful misunderstandings of force policies and the effects of drugs on behavior and how violence operates in real life. The authors seem to feel that since so many of these deaths involved excited delerium (they always use quotes around "excited delerium" to give the impression that it doesn't really exist) the Taser should not be used on violent, insane, naked, sweaty, blood-spitting people that can throw around five officers. Do they really think that beating them with clubs or putting so much weight of officer on them that they can't move or breathe will be safer? Hasn't anyone compared the numbers between these so-called taser deaths and ICDS (In-Custody Death Syndrome) which, strangely enough, also happens primarily to excited delerium cases?

It comes back to the same question: Did anyone ever critically read this pile of horseshit?


The Moody Minstrel said...

People quite often don't want the truth, Rory, especially if they have an idealistic agenda. The truth is too inconvenient.

This reminds me of my first job in Japan. At the beginning of every fiscal year we were given the same lecture by our Japanese overlord (for lack of a better term) explaining why our contracts forbade us from driving ourselves.

"Every year many foreign participants in this program are killed in traffic accidents," he'd always say. "Therefore, we wish to protect you by imposing this driving restriction."

Of course, a little research showed that in the overwhelming majority of those "traffic accidents" the "foreign participant" was on a bicycle and was hit by a car. But that's not really the point, is it? They wished to protect us! That should be enough for us, right?

A similar philosophy was behind a news story not long ago in which the Tokyo Metropolitan Police reported they had "clear evidence" that only the officially-mandated "8-hour wait rule" was sufficient after drinking, and that even sleeping off the effects of alcohol was not enough. Their "proof" was a man who had drunk alcohol at a party the night before, slept 6 hours, and then had gotten into a traffic accident. Of course, no details were provided about the accident or what "proof" they had that alcohol had been a factor. It was clearly a causal relationship established by circumstantial evidence, but that was enough to provide propaganda for the idealists with an agenda.

If more people paid attention to facts, we'd probably start running low on idealists. ;-)

Anonymous said...

The problem is systemic, both sides are biased. Every incident needs to be analyzed and discerned individually. That's a problem if you want to publish statistics. And now we are faced with a new monster, Artificial Intelligence algorithms like compass are being used to project statistics and make judgement calls even in the court system. The tendency of humans to generalize makes it almost an impossibility to take every event as a separate construct of time. Amnesty wants drama, and every time an incident is mishandled even slightly or every time a Police Officer or Public servant becomes the bad guy himself (since bad guys run on both sides and you know it...) due misjudgement, stress, poor training, improper documentation of events or simple stupidity it gives fuel to sensationalists and erodes the public trust. I have seen plenty of bullies in the Police Force, plenty of itchy fingers out there to make a name for themselves. In this new era of interconnectivity we all better work harder on accountability and diminish hypocrisy before the public trust is finally lost. We all know people who don't do our jobs cant understand the intricacies of human interaction in conflict. We ourselves are novices, so everything counts.