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Police ‘sensitivity training,’ tasers

Racial sensitivity training is trotted out as the solution after every new outrage, but does it work?  Not much, according to Boston Mayor Tom Menino and others cited at Alternet.

Veteran West Coast cop Norm Stamper, author of Breaking Rank, notes that “the rhetoric of community policing” has been accompanied by an “increase in militarism in American policing,” and says the tendency to focus on sensitivity training should be replaced by “non-negotiable expectations for performance and conduct”  which make “respect for and capacity to deal with minority communities…a condition of employment, not something to teach after the fact.”

Another innovation which hasn’t much changed police behavior, if these videos from an Alternet piece on tasers are at all representative, is the dashboard video cam monitor.

Here are videos (featuring some guys who probably shouldn’t be police officers) of a middle-age mom tased and handcuffed in front of her children during a routine traffic stop; or this guy stopped while driving his mother home from work, tased after he passes a sobriety test, with his elderly mother pepper sprayed when she objects; or this 72-year-old grandmother tased during a traffic stop.

Notes author Scott Thill, “Thanks to the taser’s wildfire deployment [and] classification as non-lethal weaponry…cops have nearly lost their minds using it on everyone from children, the elderly, and pregnant mothers to the mentally unstable and physically disabled.

“Or have their lost their spines? After all, the police are public servants, and were even once referred to as peace officers, charged with resolving disputes, defusing danger and, when necessary, applying lethal force to keep the public safe. But lately, and thanks partially to the taser’s alleged safety, they have been leaving peace behind in favor of brutalizing innocent civilians with accelerating lunacy.”

Amnesty International: Tasers kill

An Amnesty International study of deaths in U.S. from police use of Tasers — which reviewed the autopsy of one of the four Chicagoans who have died after being shocked by police — says the weapon should not be classified as “non-lethal,” and its use should be suspended or limited to life-threatening situations (pdf).

The study found that 90 percent of Taser victims studied — including Chicagoan Roland Hasse, killed in February 2005 — were unarmed and posed no serious threat. It says 334 people have died after being shocked by police since the weapon was introduced in the U.S. in 2000.

“Tasers are not the ‘non-lethal’ weapons they are portrayed to be,” said Angela Wright, a researcher at AI and author of the report, in a release. “They can kill and should only be used as a last resort.

“The problem with Tasers is that they are inherently open to abuse, as they are easy to carry and easy to use and can inflict severe pain at the push of a button, without leaving substantial marks,” she said.

Chicago police announced they are acquiring 2,500 Tasers earlier this year (see previous post). Four people have died after being shocked by Tasers while in the custody of Chicago police; a fifth Chicagoan died this April after being shocked by police in Oxford, Ohio.

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Tasers and torture

Tasers are torture, according to author and human rights activist Naomi Klein — as the Chicago Police Department, already tarnished by a torture scandal, considers dramatically expanding their use.  

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