Sometimes it’s the little incidents that generate big headlines and broader discussions. One small encounter, like this: “Ontario woman, 80, fractures hip after being struck with police taser”.
To be fair to the police, the woman was walking along a road in the wee hours of the night holding a knife, which she didn’t want to put down.
To be fair to Iole Pasquale, the 80-year-old in question, she was guilty of little more than being old and confused.
According to family members, Pasquale suffers from dementia and had simply gone wandering. Joe Warmington contacted Iole’s daughter, Angela Pasquale, and wrote more about that in this column:
A week later, her daughter still can’t accept any explanation for police using a Taser on her mother.
“She is an 80-year-old woman. Why would they do that? I could have defused that situation.”
She said her mother thought it was “the afternoon” and that she would go for a walk.
“It’s the first time she had wandered off,” she said. “She is not dangerous. She would never hurt anybody. Or bother anybody. She’s a gentle person.”
Although she did have a “bread knife,” Angela said, “my mother told me, it was down at her side and was never a threat.”
Angela also said her mother was telling police that the knife “is not for you.”
“Is there any reason, really, to ever Taser an 80-year-old in a state of confusion?” she asked. “I’m honestly baffled.”
This unfortunate incident came just one day after an Aug 27th provincial government announcement that all front-line police in Ontario would be permitted to carry Tasers, as reported by Global News Toronto:
Community Safety Minister Madeleine Meilleur says the government will not mandate the use of “conducted energy weapons,” more commonly known by the brand name Taser, but will permit police forces to equip their officers if they choose. Previously, only supervisors and tactical officers were allowed to carry Tasers.
It should never be forgotten that policing is difficult, dangerous work. Many encounters do not become clear until dissected using 20-20 hindsight. Most of us do not want first responders hurt or killed if that can be avoided.
But it’s equally easy to see where these things go awry. After all, experts argue simply having a Taser at hand hugely increases the odds it will be used, and not always appropriately. Standards for using Tasers tend to be far lower than typical standards for pulling a gun.
It’s all cause for concern, as illustrated by this quote in a Toronto Star‘s article on the Pasquale incident:
David Harvey, of the Alzheimer’s Society of Ontario, said that over the past year, his organization has worked with the Ontario Police College to create better training for new officers. But that won’t reach officers already on duty.
“It’s unacceptable, in my mind. That woman could not have presented any kind of a life-threatening situation to police. Why use that kind of force to address it?”
Taser is a brand name that has become so well-known it gets used generically, like Kleenex or Band-Aid. The Taser company website has an odometer-like counter that claims the device had helped save close to 113,000 people from death or serious injury. While that number strikes me as unprovable and inflated, no doubt non-lethal options have saved many situations from even worse outcomes.
In science fiction, the notion of a phaser set to stun seemed like a giant step forward: every target is harmlessly dropped, but all revive later with no ill-effects. A gentle faint, basically – even though simply falling tends to cause injury in real life. (Gravity can be hard on skulls or hips as they topple onto hard surfaces.)
Outside of Hollywood, we aren’t there yet.
What’s your idea of the proper use of force, non-lethal force – or words – when it comes to arrests or talking people into submission? Would that standard change if you wore the uniform and carried the gun, or the Taser?