Tasers and the Cult of Compliance: Maryland Investigative Report

Here’s a big study on taser use from Maryland, thanks to the hard work of the Baltimore Sun.

In reporting Taser incidents to the state, police departments must record the reason for discharging the weapon. Officers have only three options: “non-compliant and non-threatening,” “use of threat” or “use of force.”
Of all incidents from 2012 through 2014, police reported firing Tasers in 59 percent of cases because individuals were noncompliant. Officers said they fired because individuals used force against them in 23 percent of cases and because officers were threatened in 18 percent.

I don’t have hard stats, but almost all “lawful but awful” (and plenty of non-lawful and awful) cases of police use of force start with an officer escalating an encounter due to non-compliance. I’m often asked what changes I’d like to see, and I have a long list of topics for discussion, but here’s the first – teach law enforcement officers not to treat non-compliance, on its own, as a reason for escalation.

Tasers, too often, work in the other direction. They can be really good tools, but only if they are used in lieu of lethal force. Instead, officers use tasers in lieu of patience or conversation.

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