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Opinion: Approval of tasers in Middlebury raises concerns

I’d like to express my concern about the Middlebury police acquiring tasers as was reported in the Addison Independent on June 25. I have serious reservations about police using tasers. There have been many abuses of these devices, despite “training” of officers who are equipped with these and policies that supposedly restrict their use to certain circumstances. The very nature of the extreme pain tasers inflict is an abuse of individuals’ rights and therefore I question their legality. There is potential for tasers to be used as a form of coercion to get people to more quickly obey police orders. There have been too many instances of people who are protesting and/or passively resisting arrest who have been tasered, often multiple times, until they submit to the will of police officers.
Concerning the circumstances when tasers would be used, Chief Hanley was quoted as saying, “These are mostly cases when an unarmed suspect chooses to fight with police rather than be taken into custody peacefully.” Mostly? Will these ever be used when someone isn’t aggressively, physically, fighting police? I don’t believe our police would use these against someone (especially protestors) passively resisting arrest but I’d like to see that explicitly stated in the policy.
Chief Hanley acknowledges that the use of tasers has led to the deaths of some individuals because of unknown medical conditions and the policy states that officers will “use discretion” when dealing with subjects they have reason to believe might be under 18, pregnant, over 65, and/or suffering with a heart condition or epilepsy. But how will officers know this for sure with a stranger, especially when the suspect may be unaware of their medical condition and why only “use discretion” instead of outright banning their use on such individuals?
Other concerns I have is who will get tasered and who won’t? Will race, ethnicity, gender, or economic class play a factor? Training and good intentions can’t guarantee impartial treatment given human nature and our society. Who will determine if a taser was used inappropriately? The police? A citizen panel? Lawyers? Judges? Is there a risk a lawsuit could be costly to the town?
I don’t want to see police injured by offenders who violently resist arrest or attack officers nor do I want to see lethal force used when it could have been avoided, but I question whether tasers are the answer. I hope the selectboard reconsiders their support for tasers, and if not, I hope that policies for their use are made even stricter so that they will rarely, if ever, actually be used, and if ever improperly used, there will be procedures in place to redress the situation.
Brenda Ellis, Middlebury

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