To Tase or Not to Tase?
ANCHORAGE - The question that many have been asking after the Mountain View police shooting, and now the South Anchorage shooting, is why didn't police use a taser and spare the lives of both men? Anchorage police have explained several times over the past few weeks, but their explanations are apparently falling on deaf ears. The head of the police union says that's because of the way the public feels about APD's use of force. He's also saying there's distrust, misinformation and misunderstanding.
It's a use of force that's been brought up multiple times in the past few weeks. Tasers are less lethal police options that many in the community say should have been used to keep two men alive. But on June 9, that option wasn't available to Officer Boaz Gionson when he shot and killed Shane Tasi. And even if Officer Gionson had one, police say using a taser would have not been the right call to make because he didn't have backup.
“He didn't have lethal cover there and had the taser not been effective we essentially would have had an unarmed officer fighting a man with a stick,” said Derek Hsieh, who is the president of the APDEA. “I don't think the public expects officers to fight anybody at a disadvantage.”
Police say they have used Tasers on Harry Smith. “The person involved in this last call had been tased before and it didn't control him, so your damned if you do, damned if you don’t,” said Hsieh.
Police say they often have to make split-second decisions. The priorities usually first protect the public, the officers themselves, then the person causing the problem.
“When you force a person to make a decision very quickly their most likely going to make that decision that gives them the highest likelihood of survival,” said Hsieh. “The first thing that people may fault too is that the decision for use of force or for police action in general was based on some other factor other than the behavior of the suspect.”
Less lethal options also include using foam bullets. “The idea is that it causes pain when that is fired at a person,” said APD spokesman Lieutenant Dave Parker. But officers don't use less lethal force unless they have lethal force as a backup.
“It doesn’t work so good in this case,” said APD police chief Mark Mew on June 27. “Mr. Tasi had momentum and it’s unclear to us that going to a Taser would have pulled it off, and made that stop."
But some in the community say police protocol is not enough. They say the officers should have tried harder to save a life. “There is some maybe lack of training, maybe they need to revisit that,” said Lucy Hansen who is the president of the Polynesian Association of Alaska.
But police say their policy is simple when it comes to dangerous situations. “If you are acting out and you have a weapon and a police officer points a gun at you and tells you to put the weapon down, put it down,” said Parker.
Police say part of the misunderstanding of their use of force is because of television and movies. For example, officers point out that in TV dramas, you won't see a situation in which tasers don't work. But in real life, police say, it could go either way, which is why they have to have a backup plan in place.