2 07 2009


Photo: stock.xchang

Shocked Over UO’s TASER Push

The Univ. of Oregon’s Campus Security Propose Taser Use

Over the last year the University of Oregon began to explore the option of implementing the use of less-than-lethal ‘electrocution devices,’ more commonly referred to as TASERs, within the campus security division, The Department of Public Safety (DPS). This development seemingly occurred after the Eugene Police Department (EPD), the local community law enforcement, chose to augment peace officers with TASER devices.

The change for the Police Department seems to be reasonably intuitive. In a move to continue adequate protection to their officers and the aggregate community, the police simultaneously sought to reduce the lethal response in apprehending suspects. This is just plain responsibility and good PR.

However, the Department of Public Safety is contrarily increasing risk and capability of harm without the presenting the necessity of escalation. This brinksmanship is not in accordance to any shift in policy and is completely unsubstantiated by the most recent crime statistics.

The most recent crime statistics available from the University of Oregon indicate that crimes in all areas have decreased substantially over the past three years.  The vast majority of campus crimes are alcohol and drug related; most of which were seemingly misdemeanor crimes in nature.

Statistics show that within the 2005 to 2007 three-year period there have been 1279 liquor law violations on or near campus and 613 drug related violations. Within the same three-year period there were only two weapon violations. Proportionately, contrast those figures to the 20,000 students on the University campus yearly and the number of weapon violations seems insignificant. There seems to be a disproportionate urge for TASER use according to the deficiency of major crimes or violent offenses.

Even without a substantiated cause for the devices, the Department of Public Safety is introducing a safety concern for the individuals whom they may be shocking. Some suspects that may have or had significant health problems may be more susceptible to major health complications and possibly death when shocked, albeit a statistically insignificant portion. However, according to Amnesty International, TASERs have been attributed to 300 fatalities around the world up to June of 2008.

Estimates indicate that 345,000 TASERs have been sold in the US alone and that approximately 50 people have died from complications inflicted by TASER use in the US, according to CBS News.

Although the numbers seem relatively low on an aggregate scale, the university cannot afford a single death on campus, especially not at the hands of the campus safety, and most notably not when there wasn’t any major, or minor, necessitation for such use. The university and its employed departments should not allow themselves to contribute to the death of students, in any capacity. It is simply unacceptable. That, my friend, is bad PR.

Regardless of the lack of justification, the instruments may be placed in the hands of the wrong individuals anyways. According to the data produced for the NYPD by the Rand Corporation, the youngest “rookie” designation of police officers were found to be most associated with unnecessary utility of force. The findings indicated a high correlation between inexperienced officers and weapons use. Inexperienced uniformed officers, with more training than DPS officers, composed the demographic most prone towards unnecessary weapons use.

On the financial side of things, the implementation of TASERs on the University of Oregon campus will cost about $20,000 to arm the police force and an additional $20,000 to train them. Not to mention that these DPS positions are generally used as a stepping stone to law enforcement positions and retain a relatively high turnover rate for the transitioning employees. Additional officers would further exacerbate the cost associated with annual training, which is necessary regardless.

The university and its public safety officers could use these funds more efficiently to produce an even safer campus, if they really felt that it was justifiable in the first place.

I propose that the university should use the $40,000 dollars that would go towards purchasing the TASERs and training the officers to generate a position, or at least supplement a position, for a Eugene Police Department officer to be on campus at all times.

If safety is the primary concern for the campus officials, why not employ an actual 24-hour position, or ‘patrol beat’ if you will, for a well-trained officer that is already equipped, morally experienced and well trained?

The benefits wouldn’t just end at safety. This EPD officer could also perform as a communications liaison for the University of Oregon and the Eugene Police Department, in the event that a larger and more significant incident of a non-violent nature could occur. In the event that a larger circumstance would overwhelm the public safety officers, an EPD officer could best facilitate communications with parent and sibling first responders to coordinate a large and well-trained response.

This could be used to reduce the human costs of large structure fires, mass casualties, or even the unfortunate possibility of ‘Virginia Tech’ type school shooting. I feel confident that most students involved in a school shooting situation would best benefit from a well coordinated response, rather than marginally trained officers with stun devices that merely fire 35ft.

I am a large proponent for less-than-lethal alternatives for peace officers seeking to reduce fatalities, but in the case of Oregon’s Department of Public Safety, I would remit the conversation entirely. DPS is not seeking to decrease the capacity for conflict, but instead they are inversely seeking the means based on unjustifiable statistics. The implementation of TASER responses would be overly disproportional to the type of criminal activity, or lack thereof.

(Please Note: the that the term TASER is used in vernacular as common nomenclature. I also go out of my way to not refer to TASER devices as weapons based on the assumption that they are utilized not to inflict harm, but rather to desist detrimental behaviors in order to preserve peace and life, reasonably.)