Shockwave: Taser's Latest in Taming Dissent

November 13, 2008

Taser International is busy promoting a new product.  It’s called Taser Shockwave, meant to cast something of an electroshock net over an area.  It belongs in my “You’ve Got to Be Kidding” file along with Taser International’s leopard-print MP3 player that doubles as a taser and their employment of Playboy Bunnies for promotion- but those are stories for another day.

This week, Taser International showcased their latest in potential human rights violations to your local police chief at the International Association of the Chiefs of Police annual gathering.  I wish I could have been there to talk to those officers about our latest statistics.  Since the summer of 2001, Amnesty International has been tracking the deaths that have occurred after police have used the taser weapon- we are at 320 and counting.  In over 90% of those cases, the person shocked didn’t even have a weapon.  And now Taser International wants police to have the ability to spray tasers over a crowd, hitting individuals, all at once.

Aside from taser’s questionable track record, the frightening trend in police crackdowns on dissent should make us particularly wary of the latest in taser technology.  Forget disastrous preventative detentions at the RNC and tear gas at WTO protests.  There is something new for protestors.  Here is what Taser International has to say about it:  With the push of a button at a stand-off distance of up to 100 meters, the Shockwave unit deploys multiple standard TASER® cartridges that are oriented across an area arc. Full area coverage is provided to instantaneously incapacitate multiple personnel within that region.

Development of weapons that allow police to tase en mass is not good news.  This flies in the face of good law enforcement.  Police shouldn’t be shocking entire crowds.  Given the problems with tasers, especially among vulnerable groups like the mentally ill, police need to assess the appropriateness of taser use on particular individuals and should only elect to use the taser in dire circumstances when lesser alternatives aren’t available.

Coming off of years of crushing police responses to dissent, giving departments the technology to take down multiple people with just one pull of a trigger is a dangerous idea.  I wonder what the chilling effect will be on public dissent.  Would you be willing to go to a protest knowing that police on the scene were armed with Taser Shockwave?  I wouldn’t bring my daughter, which means that I might have to stay home.  Maybe that’s the point.