Sunday, November 25, 2007

Police, Tasers, and attitude

Debby here.

Catching up on the recent posts has been fascinating and thought-provoking. About a year ago, I took the Honolulu Police Department's Citizen Police Academy. My purpose in enrolling in the class was to learn more about police procedure and make my crime/suspense fiction more credible. But why were the other twenty-four people there? It takes an effort to show up every Thursday night for 3-4 hours over a twelve-week period. And it was quickly apparent our perseverance was a fraction of what HPD was putting out. Why the devil did they offer this class, anyway?

The CPA class was one way of recruiting interested people--and there was no age limit. You just have to be able to pass the physical. No small feat, I discovered. Police departments in Hawaii need around 20% more staff. It's hard to find people who can do the rigorous training AND accept an annual starting salary of about $33,000. (This seemed to be on a par with the problem of getting new competent teachers, who make about the same starting salary.) Consider that the average house in Hawaii costs $600,000. There are committed people who do the work and make ends meet, but there aren't enough of them.

Meanwhile, the class was fascinating. HPD offered insight into each of the departments, and we got to do fun things like shoot guns at targets(although I am not a gun enthusiast), drive police cruisers, and visit the crime lab. Part of the gun-firing day included a demonstration of tasers. The police officers who showed us how they worked were excited about the prospect of the newly passed state laws that will allow officers to add tasers to their equipment. The argument I heard over and over was that the tasers would save lives by offering an alternative to guns. Since the police are just beginning to carry tasers, there isn't enough information here to know how they're being used. Time will tell.

My interaction with police has always been fairly positive--and I hark back to when my eleven year old son (six years ago) got arrested with some buddies for spray painting a school fence. Argh, parenthood! They did it next to a baseball field full of off-duty cops. The police took them to the station and booked them, but mostly they talked to the kids and tried to explain what vandalism was and how important it was to stay out of trouble. We parents had to come 2-3 hours after the arrest to pick up our boys at the downtown station. The kids walked out pale, shaken, and carrying their shoes. They also had to come back for another "talking" session--kind of like counseling. I was impressed with the way the incident was handled.

I don't know how it would have been if the boys were young men instead, and presented a perceived threat. Not as good, I imagine. On the other hand, I have seen officers interact with older law-breakers by talking and coaxing. Perhaps it depends on the officers involved--as a plane trip depends on the skill and humanity of the attendants/pilots. Or the skills of teachers.

This humanity and skill is not guaranteed by higher pay. Don't get me started on the crooks and bozos running too many companies in the U.S. But wouldn't it help if we placed more value on certain professions? If departments weren't short handed and people didn't have to work double shifts in already stressful jobs? I can't help but think that it would be a step in the right direction.

Just some ideas. In terms of America's love affair with firearms, I don't know where to start. It's another side of a complicated problem.

1 comment:

Rick Blechta said...

I think the issue with tasers is that the police services using them believe that there is very little danger to life when they're used as an alternative to a firearm. Having recently heard two interviews with the president of the company, I can guess what the source of this misinformation is.

Whether a taser (Thomas A. Swift Electric Rifle -- isn't that cute?) can actually kill someone by its use alone is not really the issue. There is more than enough anecdotal evidence at this time to suggest that using a taser can work in tandem with other physical conditions to cause the death of someone upon whom they're used.

Police officers have been told that this is a non-lethal weapon, so they use it. Based again on admittedly anecdotal evidence, it is used far too freely. One officer (off the record) said that if someone is seriously pissing off an officer, they might very well use it to get even. He had seen it happen twice.

THAT is a very scary prospect indeed.