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Monday, June 16, 2008

Good To Go

by digby

New York City is looking to expand it's use of tasers. Lucky New Yorkers. Police commissioner Kelly is reluctant to implement their use, though because of this:

Stun guns were introduced in New York in the early 1980s, when officers were confronting a higher number of disturbed people because of the rapid and widespread deinstitutionalization of mental health patients. The devices were not seen as a success.

The technology had not been perfected and the devices were kept mostly in Emergency Service Unit officers’ trucks. Several high-ranking officers and sergeants were transferred from the 106th Precinct in Queens after officers were charged with using stun guns on drug suspects during interrogations. Mr. Kelly was assigned by Commissioner Benjamin Ward to clean things up.

Perhaps spurred by memories of that scandal, Mr. Kelly added a cautionary line to the new rules of engagement for the Taser. The order, published on June 4, said that putting a Taser directly against someone’s body should not be the primary method of use and that such cases of “touch-stun mode” would be investigated.

Using them from a distance, however, is quite all right. And I don't see why using the taser should be out of bounds in questioning when police and security guards are allowed to use it indiscriminately in most places. After all, it's no biggie:

The weapon uses a compressed-nitrogen cartridge to launch two probes that travel 15 to 35 feet. At the end of each probe is a wire that attaches to the skin and clothing. The Taser can work through about two cumulative inches of clothing, said Stephen D. Tuttle, a Taser spokesman. The probes deliver 3,000 volts of electrical current to the body, or 0.36 joules per pulse. (There are 19 pulses a second, and each trigger cycle lasts for 5 seconds).

By contrast, a cardiac defibrillator operates with 360 joules per pulse on average, Mr. Tuttle said. The Taser pulses stimulate the motor nerves, impairing communication between the brain and the muscles and essentially incapacitating the person, he said.

Kenneth S. McGuire, a sergeant with the Temple University police in Philadelphia, said his 110-member force does not use the Taser, but he would like to change that. In 2006, he became a certified trainer in the use of the Taser. To help him understand the device, he even took a Taser hit to his back.

“Basically, the only way I can explain it is if you’ve ever gotten a really bad leg cramp in your calf, if you’re swimming, imagine that in your whole body; that’s how it feels,” Sergeant McGuire said. “Your muscles freeze up, they call it the plywood effect.”

He added, “It lasts up to five seconds. And then you’re fine, you’re good to go.”

See? You get zapped and then you're good to go. It's almost fun!

If it's so harmless, why not use it to loosen up suspects? Or keep kids in line> Make workers work faster? Deal with uncooperative customers.It's not a big deal if your muscles freeze up and you drop instantly to the ground screaming in pain. It only last five seconds. Then you're fine. Maybe we should all have one.

Obviously Commissioner Kelly knows that this is bad development. So does the ACLU which correctly frames the problem:

Christopher T. Dunn, the associate legal director of the New York Civil Liberties Union, said the concern now is whether officers will use Tasers in situations where they traditionally had used much less force, and whether civilians will be unnecessarily and more frequently subjected to their use.

“Is it actually an alternative that leads to reduced use of firearms by the police?” Mr. Dunn said. “Or does it lead to increased use of force? The concern is we are going up the ladder of force, as opposed to coming down the ladder.”

Exactly. It's true that this is an effective new way for the police to use less deadly force. But the other side is that by saying that it's no big deal because it doesn't cause lasting harm, the authorities get lazy and shoot people full of electricity whenever they want to make them conform. It's increasing the use of force and acclimating citizens to the idea that the police have a right to inflict physical pain on you for coercive purposes. It's un-American for authorities under color of law to use torture techniques unless the only alternative would be to use deadly force in self-defense.

And if this technology is scary, wait until you get a load of the next generation:

Coming soon, from the folks who brought you the microwave -- Raytheon! After more than ten years in the making and at a cost of over 40 million dollars, 'Silent Guardian', or Active Denial System, (ADS, in it's formal mood), is almost ready for public release!


For, Raytheon -- the world's largest producer of guided missiles, and fifth largest defense contractor in the world, provider of aircraft radar systems, weapons sights and targeting systems, communication and battle-management systems, and satellite components -- has come up with a system which could scatter a crowd in a trice without a drop of blood being spilled.

Yes, folks, originally designed to protect military personnel against small-arms fire without the use of lethal force, Silent Guardian, ADS, the Pain Ray, call it what you will, (Raytheon would prefer you not to use the latter however), will finally soon be here!

Transmitted at the speed of light over a 700 yard distance, the Pain Ray is a millimeter-wave beam that penetrates 1/64th of an inch beneath the skin, causing the water molecules there to bubble, producing an intense burning sensation, said to feel like being burnt by molten lava or a hot iron. Its delivery system attached to a Humvee and aimed right, the Pain Ray makes people run away -- fast.


The Defense Department want to use it for protecting Defense resources, peacekeeping, humanitarian missions and other situations in which the use of lethal force is undesirable, but already there have been inquiries from other institutes and wealthy individuals about using it to protect private property.


Raytheon congratulates itself on having developed a non-lethal weapon which has been described as "Holy Grail of crowd control," but their Silent Guardian also has its critics. One, author Richard Hunter asks:

"But what happens if the people faced with such a weapon can't just run away? What happens if they're trapped in a crowd, and the crowd can't move? How much pain must that crowd endure? How long can any member of the crowd be exposed to that weapon before his or her skin -- or their eyes -- simply cook off?

What happens if the devices are used deliberately in a manner designed to cause maximum harm -- say, by training the device on prisoners trapped in prison cells until they literally go mad with pain?

What happens if the system operator turns up the power? A little bit works well, why not try a lot?"

I'm sure that's overblown. They may be a bit uncomfortable for a time feeling that their skin is melting off their bodies, but they'll soon be good to go. No harm, no foul. It would be an excellent way to keep people from protesting things they shouldn't be protesting, and asking questions they shouldn't be asking, that's for sure. We'd all be much safer.