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Christian Science Monitor: Cops overuse taser because of media hype

Muriel Kane
Raw Story
May 6, 2010

Many baseball fans might agree that jerks who interrupt the game get what’s coming to them. But the tasering of a seventeen year old Phillies fan who ran onto the field during Monday’s game has at least some observers calling foul.

Pennsylvania Governor Ed Rendell, for example, insisted, “There’s no need to use Tasers on fans who run on the field.”

The fan’s run was not televised but was captured in multiple videos from the audience. These quickly spread across YouTube and have been rebroadcast by many news programs.

On one typical newspaper message board, the comments ranged from “That is the funniest picture I have seen in a long time” and “I’m 100% in favor of using a taser on these yahoos” to “You guys ought to be embarrased [sic] to put even your screen name by those words.”

An article in the Christian Science Monitor is now suggesting that overhyped fears of violence against police may be partly to blame for the public’s casual acceptance of the police officer’s actions.

“The number of Tasers in the hands of police have grown to 375,000 worldwide,” writes Patrik Jonsson, “and the blowback — from ‘Don’t tase me, bro!’ to a reported 300 deaths — has been significant. … To some, the tasering incident in Philadelphia is indicative of a perceived escalation of threat against police — and how the media has perhaps laid the groundwork for acceptance of Tasers by overhyping that fear.”

The Philadelphia Police Department has opened an investigation of the incident. Police spokesman Lt. Frank Vanone explained on Tuesday that the Department was looking at whether its officers “should … be on the field at all.”

“I’m not sure we should be chasing people around the field,” Vanone acknowledged, though he added, “From the preliminary look at it, it appears that the officer was within the policy. … He was attempting to make an arrest and the male was attempting to flee.”

Police Commissioner Charles Ramsey defended his department strongly, saying, “It’s not like it was an 8-or 9-year-old who was out there. This is a good-sized individual. … It’s inappropriate for him to be out on the field, and unless I read something to the contrary, as far as I’m concerned, that officer acted appropriately, and I support him 100 per cent.”

Pop culture expert Elayne Rapping, however, was outraged. She told the Monitor, “[The Phillies fan tasering incident] feels in some ways like a distorted version of what happened in the ’60s when people were out of control over fear of war protesters. … Now there’s fear of almost anyone, like we’re at war with ourselves in this country.”

Rapping blamed the exaggerated fears on the media, which “leads people to think that the most dangerous people in the world are young kids at a baseball game, when really the most dangerous people are CEOs and government regulators who endanger lives and jobs.’”

Rapping’s suggestion that the fear of violence against police is out of line with actual threats appears to be supported by statistics. According to one analysis, the level of violence against police officers in the United States began to climb in the 1960s and 70s, with officer deaths (from all causes) going from 125 in 1965 to 238 in 1971. This led to pressure for better training and equipment, together with the growing use of SWAT teams to deal with the most dangerous criminals.

The level of violence has since dropped significantly, even as the nation’s population has grown, with the Associated Press reporting a few years ago that between 1995 and 2000, officer deaths had averaged 159 per year. “154 officers died in the line of duty in 2004,” AP noted. “Seventy-two local, state and federal officers died from traffic-related accidents while 57, about one-third, died from shootings.”

More recently, CNN reported, “Deaths of law enforcement officers in the line of duty fell sharply in 2008, with the number killed by gunfire reaching its lowest level in more than five decades. … 140 law enforcement officers were killed in 2008 — 86 of them accidentally and 54 intentionally. … Fewer officers were killed by gunfire in 2008 than in any year since 1956.”

Despite a disturbing upturn in 2009, which was marked by several cases of deliberate targeting of groups of officers, the level of threat to police officers engaged in routine apprehension of suspects appears to be well contained. And yet at the same time, the use of tasers appears to be escalating steadily — with recent targets including a great-grandmother, a pregnant woman, a 10-year-old girl, an unconscious diabetic, and a cow.

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