Tuesday, June 24, 2008

Editorializing in a Vacuum

The NY Times has an editorial up this morning calling on NYPD commissioner Raymond Kelly to proceed with caution on using their recently purchased tasers. That's great, but as with most NY Times editorials without an explicit author, this one reads as if its author was not only concerned with maintaining an early 20th century voice, but was actually in the early 20th century, operating without easy access to other reporting around the country and world.

Some examples of insulated editorializing from the overly-short editorial:
Tasers fire electrified darts from as far away as 35 feet to immobilize the target. Some New York police officers say the devices are useful in subduing suspects who are on drugs or are mentally disturbed. New York police officers encounter some 80,000 such situations in a year.
Mentally ill people and drug users are exactly the people that a major inquiry into tasing by Canada's Commission for Public Complaints just labeled as "at risk" (for taser abuse and post tasing complications). As pointed out at Excited Delirium there's some dubious spinning in trying to pin a predisposition to cardiac events on every person who died after being tased, but these populations are undoubtedly at risk for abuse (see Houston).

But cutting to the chase, is the Times here condoning the use of tasers on drug addicts and mentally ill people? Are they?

It seems to me that if a device intended to control a segment of problem suspects is most dangerous to those suspects, that device can't be used with any moral superiority (i.e., If you knowingly use a device that's specifically dangerous to the person it's being applied to, you're a special kind of bastard.).

The next dubious paragraph in the Times anonymous editorial:
If more Tasers are deployed in New York City, strict conditions would have to be imposed on who could use them and under what circumstances. They might make sense as a last-resort alternative to lethal force, but it would be folly to allow them to be used in more routine situations like crowd control or policing political demonstrations. Nor should they be seen as the full answer to the problem of police shootings.
Indeed. An internet search would have turned up plenty of information on this topic. NYC's own Daily News was able to find some of these statistics.

It's not a point of contention; tasers aren't reducing firearm deployment. They're being sold to police departments and the public on that premise, but that's not what's happening. So yes, it is "folly" to allow tasers to be used for crowd control and policing political demonstrations, but more importantly, it's already known that PD's armed with tasers use them liberally in situations where firearms would never be used.

I don't know whether it's a lack of space, a lack of initiative, or a sense of superiority ("We're the Times, we don't need to look laterally.") that results in anonymous editorials that are missing so much relevant information.