Tased and Confused….

Here I go – I told Steve yesterday I had the post title but I was not going to write the post.  I’ve noted the Sun Herald editorial board has been mysteriously quiet on Mike Chaney’s Market Conduct Examination, perhaps because they endorsed him last election, (since we are “sharing concerns”) but they aren’t keeping quiet about the use of tasers in Waveland. Point of disclosure, I’ve known Chief Varnell since I was a kid. My own opinion is the technology may have advanced faster than the training but Jimmy is the right man running the WPD IMHO. In any event here is the Sun Herald editorial on the use of tasers in Waveland straight from page 1 of today’s (online) edition.

Until last month, the United States Marine Corps did not authorize the use of Tasers… in Iraq. The Corps sent more than 100 Tasers to Iraq in 2004, but “its use was scuttled after concerns were raised over whether the training in place was sufficient and whether its use would hurt efforts to gain the trust of Iraqis,” according to the Marine Corps Times.

Only now, with new guidelines in place for training and use, is the Corps comfortable with issuing the device to its troops in a combat zone.

Yet in the last 12 months, the Waveland Police Department has used Tasers at least 87 times.

And the most obvious law enforcement agency that South Mississippians should be most concerned about is the Waveland Police Department.

Among law enforcement agencies along the Coast providing information to the Sun Herald, the Harrison County Sheriff’s Department is a distant second, with 48 Taser incidents between Nov. 1, 2007 and Nov. 1, 2008.

In Biloxi, a city with more than 130 sworn police officers – Waveland has 25 – officers have unholstered Tasers on about 15 occasions. But usually, just showing a Taser to someone will encourage compliance with an officer’s requests, said Lt. Jim Adamo. “They have only been fired once since October 2007,” he said.

Waveland Police Chief James Varnell declined interview requests from the Sun Herald for reporter J.R. Welsh’s front page story on Sunday.

But sooner rather than later the chief should be held publicly accountable for the stunning frequency with which his officers resort to these devices, which can send 50,000 volts of low-amperage electricity through a body.

In an on-going court case, the testimony of two of Varnell’s officers, Clay Necaise and Patrick Barber, indicated that it was commonplace for them to use their Tasers.

Necaise refused to testify under oath how many times he had fired a Taser in his eight months with the department, saying only that it was “less than 100.” Barber testified he had subdued people with a Taser “multiple times” – as many as 50 occasions in 23 months.

Tasers are not toys for big boys.

Although considered a non-lethal weapon in the law enforcement arsenal, Amnesty International claims that since June 2001, more than 320 people have died after being shocked with Tasers by police officers.

“Obviously, you can’t use a Taser on a person just because they won’t do what you tell them to do,” said Maj. Randy Cook with the Harrison County Sheriff’s Department.

Yet as Andrew Scott, a national police consultant and retired police chief in Boca Raton, Fla., observed, Taser use can easily become indiscriminate, especially among younger police officers.

“The officer today utilizes a Taser less as a necessity and more as a convenience,” Scott said.

“In a lot of cases, they’re getting sued, and quite successfully.”

If the Marine Corps was so concerned about not only the proper use, but the perception of using Tasers in Iraq that it delayed deploying them for years, why should police departments in South Mississippi be any less concerned about the consequences of their use?

Obviously, they shouldn’t be.

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