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Should Florida’s School Resource Officers Get Permission to Use Tasers on Youths? Research Paper

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Updated: Sep 14th, 2022

Executive Summary

The use of a Taser during an arrest has been very necessary, especially in cases where the suspect attempts to flee or physically attack the arresting officer. It is a good substitution for the use of gunfire. However, cases have been reported of the misuse of Tasers among law enforcement officers. Several complaints of excessive use of force have been aired in cases where officers discharge Tasers where the circumstances do not warrant the move. The use of Tasers has also resulted in deaths, especially in cases where the victim is epileptic or suffers from heart problems. The use of a Taser involves very high voltages of electric shock. Hence, it can be lethal or cause permanent health problems to vulnerable populations. Since the use of Tasers is unavoidable, there is the need to ensure the most efficient use of Tasers while minimizing the risks of health complications or death. It is also important for the State of Florida to ensure that the officers use Tasers appropriately. They should only discharge them in situations where softer means have failed. It is also important for victims to be informed about the implications of resisting an officer. The most efficient method of ensuring that Tasers are used efficiently is by creating policies that act as an efficient guideline on the proper use, risks, and exceptions to the use of Tasers. This paper analyzes the permissibility of the use of Tasers on youths by Florida’s school resource officers.

Introduction

Situations that pose a threat to people can occur in any place. For insecure institutions such as schools, it is important to maintain the safety of students. Safety in schools may call for the security officers to detain or apprehend individuals. Using a Taser to detain such individuals when they are resistant may be necessary. On the other hand, the misuse of a Taser by an officer involves the violation of an individual’s right. Therefore, policies should be put in place to ensure that Tasers are only used when it is extremely necessary. Several considerations should also be taken to minimize the chances of causing death or health complications. The officer should also be qualified to use a Taser by being given proper training. The officer should also be keen on which part of the body he or she aims the Taser at to prevent damaging sensitive body organs.

Review of Research Policies

According to Worrall (2014), a Taser is a form of an electronic control device (ECD) that is used to subdue suspects by law enforcers. The device produces an electronic shock that triggers spontaneous muscle contractions that leaves the target incapacitated. The electronic shock causes the targeted individual to remain unconscious for about five to ten seconds. Literature shows that the use of Tasers mostly causes minor or no injuries. In fact, manufacturers and proponents of Tasers equate the impact of Tasers to hand control strategies (Walker, 2011). Moreover, it is presumed to be more favorable than other ‘less-than-lethal’ weapons such as pepper spray (Walker, 2011).

However, as the use of Tasers becomes increasingly popular, controversies surrounding its safety are also ubiquitous. Taser International does not list the entire risks that the device poses to the targeted individual. Subsequently, most law enforcers are uninformed of its dangers and/or how to counter such risks. A study by Gaines and Kappeler (2014) reveals that the Taser shock can result in serious injuries such as spine fractures, eye damage, scarring, internal damage of soft tissues, and hernias. In fact, law enforcers have been victims of Taser-induced injuries during training. Moreover, Taser International also accounts that the shock may also cause falls and secondary injuries where the suspect is physically frail (Gaines & Kappeler, 2014).

Le Blanc, Gricourt, Touré, Papin, and Proust (2012) have also shown that when Taser is fired at a time when the heartbeat cycle is susceptible, it can cause ventricular fibrillation, which results in death. Kids and individuals taking psychiatric drugs are more vulnerable to the condition. Moreover, repeated and prolonged Taser shocks also increase the chances of suffering from this condition. In the absence of defibrillators, it can cause fatal cardiac arrest. Unfortunately, most health risks are not substantiated with adequate empirical evidence. However, when they occur, the results are fatal. Therefore, there is the need to evaluate the impact of such health risks on children before authorizing schools resource officials to use Taser devices on youths in the State of Florida.

Records of deaths are accelerated by Taser shocks. Individuals who struggle with diabetes, epilepsies, and cardiac ailments may die because of the shock. Amnesty International (AI) reported that about 334 individuals died between 2001 and 2008 after being Tasered in America. Although AI asserts that victims had other ailments, it is evident that Taser was a contributory factor. Unfortunately, law enforcers are unlikely to understand the health conditions of the suspects at the time of the arrest. Hence, they may use Taser, even where the target has severe medical conditions. Despite the serious risk of Tasering, most of the people who lose their lives at the time of apprehension do not face a looming death threat to the law enforcers. The incidents raise serious issues concerning the use of unreasonable force (Beard, 2015).

Since there is evidence that Tasers can reduce the injuries that occur between law enforcers and suspects, it can be presumed that the risks are largely influenced by how they are deployed. Moreover, in the case of youths in the State of Florida, the use of Tasers may be the most applicable non-lethal technique that law enforcers can use to apprehend teenagers. Other methods such as firearms and pepper spray may only amount to the use of excessive force if school resource officers use them to separate fights or manage other aggressive behaviors in the school. In fact, courts have supported the use of Tasers on youngsters terming it as a reasonable force. In the Jason v City of Lincoln Park, the district court decreed that the law enforcers had used reasonable office when they Tasered a fourteen-year-old boy who was not cooperating with the officers, even after being handcuffed. Furthermore, the courts reiterated that the use of Taser was consistent with the Fourth Amendment that upholds the use of reasonable force. It follows that security officers must ensure that they use Tasers appropriately (Worley & Worley, 2011).

The US Department of Justice asserts that Tasers are increasingly becoming the most common ‘less-than-lethal’ force applied by law enforcers. Despite the proof that hand control methods may significantly reduce injuries experienced when subduing suspects, security officers always opt for Tasers, thus leading to abuse of the device. Observers such as Beard (2015) have noted numerous cases where security officers opted to deploy several and extended shocks where the target was already restrained. Such officers have also used the device on vulnerable individuals such as expectant women. Moreover, passive subjects have also been Tasered, despite being clearly inappropriate (Beard, 2015).

Jurists also note that abuse of Tasers may amount to the use of excessive force, which is a violation of the principles implied in the Fourth Amendment. In Graham v. Connor, the court held that the application of force could only be permitted if it met the standards of the Fourth Amendment (Gaines & Kappeler, 2014). Initially, courts did not underscore the risks associated with Taser devices. Thus, they often sided with law enforcers, even in cases where one would confirm the extreme use of force. Presently, humanitarian agencies, security experts, and medical practitioners have raised concerns, thus making the courts more conversant with the risks. Law enforcers can be reprimanded for abusing the use of Taser since they know the pain or fatalities that ECD can cause. Moreover, measures can also be taken to discipline municipalities that encourage policies that permit security officers to misuse Tasers (Fabian, 2010).

Courts have consistently prohibited the use of deadly force unless there is a severe threat as held in Tennessee v. Garner. Indeed, legal experts assert that repeated Tasering may amount to inappropriate use of deadly force if the suspects do not pose lethal threats. However, in the controversial case of Buckley v. Haddock, the court alluded that it was logical to Taser a subdued suspect three times. Buckley v. Haddock is among the cases that might create confusion among law enforcers. It encourages the misuse of Tasers. Therefore, policymakers need to consider promoting laws that regulate the effective use of Tasers (Sussman, 2012).

The State of Florida is among the few regions in the US that permit and/or have provisions that govern the use of Taser. It allows security officers to use physical force, which includes nonlethal devices such as Tasers where it is practically appropriate. The Florida Statute further points out that the targeted individual must be repelling apprehension actively since the suspect may attempt to escape or threaten to apply force. From a rare view, the Act may appear to be protecting constituents from arbitrary use of Taser together with the risks that it poses. However, the State of Florida lacks a law that prevents law enforcers from Taser passive targets as witnessed in the Buckley case (Fabian, 2010).

Recommendations

Tasers should only be used per the Florida Statute. The statute permits the use of Tasers in case of escalated resistance when the suspect attempts to escape or physically threatens the officer. The use of force by officers should not be condoned unless it is necessary. Tasers should be used only after verbal commands and/or the use of hands. A suspect should understand the implication of resisting an officer before the placement of a Taser (Walker, 2011).

Consideration should also be taken on what part of the body the Taser is placed. To minimize the risk of permanent damage of body organs or even death, officers should have guidelines on where to direct the Taser and where to avoid it. When a Taser is aimed at the front part of the body, it should be directed at the torso, but far from the heart. When directed towards the back, it should be aimed low enough to avoid affecting the heart. Tasers should never be aimed at the groin, neck, head, face, open mouth, eyes, large blood vessels, female breasts, or open wounds (Gaines & Kappeler, 2014).

Taser policies should be clear in defining circumstances under which the use of Tasers is unacceptable. Taser use should be restricted to situations under which the devices are unlikely to cause fatalities or permanent damage. The use of Tasers should be prohibited around highly flammable substances, young children or elderly people, on persons under 80 pounds, compliant persons, already restrained persons, people with known heart conditions, mental health patients, or pregnant women. It should also be avoided in risky surroundings. Policies should also be set to limit the substitution of verbal de-escalation methods with the use of a Taser. Officers should strive to resolve confrontations using other methods first before applying force. Tasers should only be used on forceful resistors (Walker, 2011).

Florida policies on the use of Tasers should also include steps that should be taken to provide medical attention after a Taser discharge. Such policies should indicate the need to offer emergency medical help if a Taser is discharged on a sensitive body part. Officers should also be trained to offer emergency services to prevent deaths following the use of a Taser when the victim seems to develop an extreme reaction. The State of Florida should also develop sanctions against officers who fail to adhere to policies that govern the use of Tasers. Such sanctions should be put in writing to improve their enforceability (Worrall, 2014).

The Taser policy should include the requirement for every officer who fires a Taser to fill out a form outlining the events that preceded and followed the Taser use. The form should subsequently be submitted to the supervisor. The report should be submitted within twenty-four hours. Such a procedure will be effective in preventing frivolous use of Tasers. Such a report will also be used to review the integrity of an officer and/or his need for further training. Disciplinary actions should be taken if the report and consequent investigations reveal that the officer failed to follow the Taser policies (Fabian, 2010; Worrall, 2014).

Conclusion

The use of Tasers has been recommended, as opposed to the use of guns, to quell commotions and resistance during arrests. Tasers have less lethality as compared to guns. Although the use of Tasers has been taken to be a nonlethal alternative to lethal force, they carry exceptional risks. Scores of people have been reported dead after a Taser was discharged on them. This observation means that the use of a Taser is lethal to some extent. Therefore, guidelines have to be put in place to minimize cases of Taser-related deaths. It is important to limit the use of Tasers since they emit a high voltage of electric current that can cause permanent damage to vital body organs. Tasers should only be used on violent resistors and not on compliant or restrained suspects. Children, elderly people, and pregnant women should always be exempted from the use of Tasers because they are more at risk of succumbing to the shock.

Reference List

Beard, M. (2015). Simply Stunning! A Proposed Solution for Regulating the Use of Tasers by Law Enforcement in the Seventh Circuit. Valparaiso University Law Review, 49(3), 907-953.

Fabian, J. (2010). Don’t Tase Me Bro!: A Comprehensive Analysis of the Laws Governing Taser Use By Law Enforcement. Florida Law Review, 62(1), 763-794.

Gaines, L., & Kappeler, V. (2014). Policing in America. Massachusetts, MA: Routledge.

Le Blanc, L., Gricourt, C., Touré, E., Papin, F., Proust, B. (2012). A brain penetration after Taser injury: Controversies regarding Taser gun safety. Forensic Science International, 221(3), 7-11.

Sussman, A. (2012). Shocking the Conscience: What Police Tasers and Weapon Technology Reveal About Excessive Force Law. UCLA Law Review, 59(5), 1342-141.

Walker, J. (2011). Tase Me One More Time: An Analysis of the Ninth Circuit’s Interpretation of The Fourth Amendment, Qualified Immunity, and Tasers In Brooks V. City of Seattle. Brigham Young University Law Review, 2011(1), 227-243.

Worley, V., & Worley, R. (2011). Shocking Policy: Municipal Liability for the Use of Tasers and Stun Guns by the Police. Journal of Police Crisis Negotiations, 11(1), 72-89.

Worrall, J. (2014). Crime Control in America: What Works? New Jersey, NJ: Pearson Education.

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