from the attacks-the-symptom-but-not-the-disease dept
The fallout continues to accumulate from an in-school altercation that left a student in a medically-induced coma after being tased by a school resource officer (read: sheriff's deputy). In addition to a lawsuit being filed against the school and sheriff's office by the student's parents, a collection of civil rights groups is now calling for a ban on the use of nonlethal weapons by school police officers.
The request to bar nonlethal weapons was made by the ACLU, the Texas Appleseed group, along with the Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational Fund, Disability Rights Texas, Texans Care for Children, the Texas Criminal Justice Coalition and the National Alliance on Mental Illness Texas.This attacks part of the problem. These weapons are often deployed carelessly because of their "nonlethal" descriptor. The indiscriminate use of Tasers has resulted in serious injuries and death over the past several years but banning these nonlethal weapons leaves officers employed by schools with few options when the use of force is necessary.
"Tragic incidents like this one demonstrate why the state should not grant police free rein to wield weapons in schools for the apparent purpose of maintaining order," said Terri Burke, executive director of the ACLU of Texas. "Schools should be safe havens from this type of police use of force. I hope the commission will heed our call to end use of Tasers and pepper spray."
The use of Tasers and pepper spray was defended by Chief C.A. "Chuck" Brawner, of the Spring Branch Independent School District police force, who said nonlethal weapons are necessary so officers don't have to use firearms or nightsticks on unarmed students…A ban of Tasers and pepper spray would arguably make things worse, leaving officers with the option of beating or shooting students when things get out of hand. This problem needs to be approached from a different direction if schools hope to prevent this sort of thing in the future.
"When you take away the pepper spray and you take away the Taser, what do you have left?" Brawner said. "What if there are several people and you have one officer and they can't control them and they could get away and cause other problems, how do you stop them? When you start taking away other options other than a firearm or a nightstick, what else are you going to use?''
More training is obviously key, and not just training officers on how to deploy nonlethal weapons more "safely," but training them how to resist the impulse to deploy nonlethal weapons when the situation doesn't warrant it. This is much trickier. Fights have occurred in schools for as long as schools have been around. For years, they were broken up by faculty with no training and no weapons, lethal or not. The prevailing belief that only a law enforcement officer can control fighting students is not only wrong, but it's led to on-campus officers handling a great deal of the intervention and discipline that administrators themselves used to handle, often with regrettable results.
This has the effect of turning a common schoolyard fight into a criminal activity, and the response tends to be tailored more towards stopping a street fight than breaking up an altercation between students. If the students aren't using weapons (and they shouldn't be, what with all the other policies in place), then the responding officer shouldn't feel a need to use a weapon either.
If the situation seems to be escalating dangerously, the on-campus officer should have several nonlethal options to deploy before turning the situation deadly. But even the deployment of tasers and pepper spray should be a last resort rather than something used to quickly nullify the perceived threat. The safety of the students should still be paramount. Deploying a Taser simply because someone isn't moving fast enough, being responsive enough or simply "looking threatening" is not the correct response.
I agree with the ACLU's assertion that schools should be a "safe haven" from the use of force, but a ban will have negative consequences, especially if the underlying issues (the use of police officers as a disciplinary tactic; the overuse of force by resource officers) aren't addressed. Instead of a tasing that leads to a coma, we'll have gunshots and blunt force trauma. There's a culture grown from zero tolerance policies and its attendant paranoia that infects administrators and the officers they employ. This needs to addressed before we can start removing nonlethal options.