The BART Police Department has decided to strip officers of tasers following an incident involving a sergeant firing an electric gun at a 13-year-old boy fleeing from cops on his bicycle.
Butler said the suspension of the Taser program would allow the department to do training that integrates rulings by the Ninth U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals that have already prompted changes at agencies around the Bay Area.
The most pivotal ruling came in December, when the court said a man could sue a Coronado (San Diego County) police officer who had stunned him with a Taser to gain compliance after pulling him over for failing to wear a seat belt. The man was “yelling gibberish and hitting his thighs,” the court said, but did not pose an immediate threat to the officer.
Yelling gibberish and hitting one’s own thighs are not yet crimes punishable by electrocution. Nor is fleeing from cops on a bike.
Butler said BART’s Taser policy has always barred officers from using the devices to stop fleeing suspects, and will continue to do so. He said the new policy forbids using a Taser on a minor “unless there’s some exigent circumstances.”
“Let’s say,” he said, “you had a 17-year-old who was 6-foot-4 and 200 pounds and was pounding on an officer and the officer couldn’t escape. The officer could use a Taser.”
Hypothetical angry mutant teenagers aside, the far more likely scenario is the 13-year-old boy on bicycle one, or any scenario involving epileptics, feisty motorists, student protesters, the deaf and/or mentally ill, and children.
Cops are taught tasering is the “safe” alternative to deadly force as if those are the only two options at their disposal. This kind of rationale is a slippery slope. Of course, most police don’t wake up every morning wondering how many innocent civilians they can kill, but they’re fed the “tasers are safe” propaganda until it seems normal to use these weapons during altercations that could usually be resolved without any need for physical force — like dealing with a bicycling child.
BART made the right call here. They have to denormalize the use of tasers and retrain officers to understand they too are deadly weapons.