However faintly the frantic words ‘don’t tase me bro’ still probably echo in the popular imagination.
Subduing a nebbish university student for an uncouth question is arguably the wrong way to use a taser.
Is there a right way? Figuring that out has been the business of Taser and the various departments implementing this ‘stunning’ new tool since the companies inception.
I chose to cover this story column style in my online magazine because it’s one of those things with lots of intersections. Which is very ‘fractal.’
Mr. Fred Reed is a Vietnam veteran, expatriate who continues a long career of writing books, and columns from Mexico. I stumbled on his material many a year ago and have never regretted it. He is able to provide accurate insights with a caustic wit as spicy as any salsa in his new home.
He spent some time riding with people in what he terms ‘The Street Trades’ (Police, Firemen, Paramedics). Something particularly salient to the current discussion and invaluable in navigating troubled times.
I was surprised to find that officers fire their weapons far less than I thought. Police funding often proves inadequate and departments aren’t left with too much ammunition to shoot down a range. There is also the thing that if one takes the trouble to notice has always made sense.
It’s pretty surprising…I feel a tad odd writing it but..you don’t want cops to be used to combat situations. As a rule, an officer will try to avoid using his firearm. Though some troubled areas of the country may indeed be battlefields, and many officers former soldiers, the police are not soldiers. Live fire, and mortal struggle are things that they avoid. Descalation is the better part of policing.
Readiness can vary wildly from department to department each having unique degrees of perennial public sector problems of recruitment, retention, funding, and corruption.
Fred Reed enlightened me to the fact that policemen often mutter ‘I’m going home tonight.’ Going home is something we don’t think about. It is something we don’t think about because the police think about it.
I’m as far removed from hero worship and starry-eyed delusions about ‘our boys in blue’ as Mr. Reed (a tireless critic of all stripes of OO-RAH culture despite being a former Marine). This is because while the details are fuzzy and likely over-romanticized by my writer’s brain I experienced something in Moscow.
Yes, twenty-nine years ago I was born in Russia. Which is a place like any other with wonders and horrors sprinkled in whimsical arbitrary quantities throughout the land. One of the wonders is the Moscow theater one of the horrors, a commonplace among metropolises ‘fucked up cops.’
So when I wax lyrically about ‘our streets are safe due to their sacrifice’ I’m not doing it from some hickish Carolina naivete.
As a boy of six or so about to descend the stairs to the subway station, I saw two strong young looking officers man handle an old woman. My mother told me to turn away. Pulling me along and muttering something about staying out of trouble with the government.
I’m absolutely certain that this is not the rule for police in Moscow or anywhere. But I do have eyewitness experience of what certainly looked like police brutality and the cultural unwillingness of bystanders to intervene. While details may be fuzzy I vividly recall this episode as being the very first time I was mad at the whole world.
More recently I witnessed the overzealous prosecution of a close friend following a domestic dispute. I am not entirely certain that the officers didn’t fib. The plaintiff lost thanks to a level-headed judge but nonetheless, I have a sufficiently nuanced experience with law enforcement to say…
It is inarguable that policing is necessary and (along with an educated populace functioning in a relatively health economy) the reason why our streets are for the most part safe, most of the time.
They are safe because the police despite their many shortcomings are an effective deterrent.
The current political climate has thrust cops from one extreme of the spectrum to the other. Rather than erring on the bumpkin’s default idolization of the police they have painted them as overwhelmingly incompetent and evil.
This is a wrongheaded and very dangerous sentiment. All I need to cite for evidence are the murders of five police officers at the Dallas Police Protest in 2016.
Portraying the police as malicious, pig-headed racists can lead to no other outcome.
Which is why it is important to present the reality.
The reality being that the police are human, they vary wildly, in creed, color, and favorite pizza topping. Yes, we should expect them to set a high ethical bar. But we can’t expect them to be superhuman.
Fred Reed asks a very good question in his column ‘Test yourself in a dark alley.’
Imagine chasing a suspect down a dark alley and he pulls something out of his pocket, or whirls about, or lunges at you. It’s dark, many departments are understaffed, you’re likely overworked and tired…this guy might be somebody over reacting to a breakup or it might be a guy with a knife, gun, hell a machete isn’t unheard of. What do you do as the adrenaline builds?
Obviously, this problem is a sad reality of life. Excessive force and deadly violence are not you see just a police problem these are human problems.
Solving these problems will prove to be as complex as the story I found in the August 27th, 2018 issue of The New Yorker.
The story (Shock to the System) is by that publications former editorial staff member and active staff writer Dana Goodyear who covered the transition of LTL manufacturer Taser into Axon. Axon is Taser 2.0 with a stated mission of becoming the ‘public safety nervous system’ via cameras, databases, and AI-powered analysis.
The tale is long multifaceted and has more rabbit trails than all of Appalachia. Which is why in order to do it justice I must turn this piece into a series and promise to publish the rest within the coming week. I have a safety audit at my day job tomorrow and need to brush up all the little acronyms and mnemonics that spell job security for that marginalia known as management. Apparently memorizing lists satisfies inspectors more than a robust series of exercises. But I digress…
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