Police Tasering in Texas

On my personal site, I recently posted on a possible link between the drop in the Austin Police Department’s use of force (down by 10.5% in APD’s 2004 Use of Force Report) and its expanded use of the Taser weapon (up 27.7 percent, according to the same report), which “shoots two streams of electricity that deliver a 50,000-volt jolt for 5 seconds, temporarily immobilizing a person by over-stimulating the nervous system and causing muscles to lock up.” Following the report, the Austin Spokescouncil issued its own analysis of the results, particularly noting that Taser use was classified as non-violent.

Though Austin police haven’t had any deaths following Taser use, the Fort Worth police department has had three people die after Taser use in the past year. And the mayor of Birmingham suspended police Taser use following an inmate’s death. In the majority of these deaths, Tasers were not directly identified as the cause of death (only 10 percent of the Amnesty International deaths listed the Taser as a contributing factor). But that still leaves questions about Taser use: How many times can someone be shocked? What are the risks of shocking someone who is on drugs or has a pre-existing condition? What level of force should the Taser occupy in a police officer’s arsenal?

According to the Daily Texan story, the Austin City Council approved a $75,291 contract to buy 90 more police Tasers this year.

Today, an Associated Press wire report in the Austin American-Statesman covered the deaths in Fort Worth and the anti-Taser movement springing from groups like the ACLU and Amnesty International. Both groups are campaigning for a Taser moratorium until more studies can be done to answer questions about the weapon.

Taser International has been defending itself in the media as well, recently suing USA Today for a series that it blames for a billion dollar loss for its shareholders.

Perhaps the most shocking part of the AP report is an anecdote about the APD Tasering a 22-year-old multiple times after confronting him for playing guitar on Sixth Street without a permit.

Most people, like Trevor Goodchild, 22, survive Taser shocks, but some suffer injuries.

In February, Goodchild was playing his guitar on Austin’s Sixth Street, a well-known strip known for its live music clubs, when several police officers approached him and said he needed a permit or would be jailed. When he asked which law he had broken, they grabbed his guitar and slammed him to the ground, splitting open his cheek, he said.

Goodchild, who is white, said he never cursed or resisted arrest, but yelled “Rodney King!”

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