Greetings again from the darkness. “Don’t tase me, bro”. In 2007, an incident at The University of Florida became a humorous viral sensation when a student, after asking John Kerry a question, was forcibly removed by police. His pleading became a catchphrase, but didn’t prevent his being hit with the Taser. Now comes this documentary from director Nick Berardini, and he pulls back the curtain on the ethics of Taser International Corporation, the safety of tasers, and the protocol and use of this weapon by police officers.
We learn Jack Cover invented the taser in 1969, and it was the Smith brothers (Rick and Tom) who founded the Taser International company in 1993, increased the voltage output, and began marketing heavily to police departments as a safe alternative to firearms. The Smith’s claim the taser is “the biggest revolution in law enforcement since the radio”, though they spend the bulk of the movie giving evasive answers to variations of the question, “Is the taser safe or potentially deadly?”
Director Berardini documents tragic events where police use of tasers ended with suspects dying. Doctors and lawyers chime in, but it’s the testimonies of Tom and Rick Smith themselves that provide a level of creepiness that would complement most any horror film. Actual video footage is shown of not just the Smith brothers numerous depositions, but also of some of the actual events. Two of the most devastating are a man at the Vancouver airport, and a young man stopped for speeding directly across the street from his own house. The latter died after being tased … while his parents looked on. Neither appeared to be an immediate threat to the police officers. The film recounts incidents where kids as young as 6 years old, and women in their 80’s have been hit with police tasers.
Reports show that more than 17,000 Law Enforcement Agencies utilize tasers, and one of the more interesting case studies is that of the Warren, Michigan Police Department. One of the early adopters of the weapon, this police department dropped the taser from use by their officers after a tragic incident. Since then, they have seen no increase in police injuries or shootings, drawing into question the company claim of a safer alternative.
At a minimum, the film should instigate further debates on two key issues: the safety of the weapons, and the training techniques and best use for police officers. The key concern seems to be a direct hit to the chest area which can immediately impact the victim’s heart. It’s frightening to think that police could be Taser-dependent or Taser-happy in using a weapon that may not be safe. We see some fascinating video of macho tough-guy cops being dropped immediately by one second (or less) tasers, but it’s the events with multiple prolonged zaps that seem to cause the biggest concern. Again … this research is necessary and should be done immediately, given the widespread use of Tasers.
As a side note, Taser International is still in the taser business, but their biggest revenue source is now police body cameras. Say what you will, but the company is certainly opportunistic.