Is aim to end transit violence with Tasers misguided?

Posted on April 20, 2012 by Nicole Schlosser

One news story reported this week that raised a few eyebrows around our office and got a few retweets was about a New York state Senator who wants to train bus drivers, subway contractors, and commuter rail and Amtrak crew members, to use Tasers in order to fend off attacks from passengers. Sen. Eric Adams is a retired NYPD captain who has no doubt seen his share of violent situations.

Has it really come to this, though? We have reported on the increasing violence experienced by bus drivers, and so it seems that giving them another tool to defend themselves and help protect passengers is a good idea. However, some argue that using a Taser is excessive force because it temporarily immobilizes a person through electroshock and can cause cardiac arrhythmia leading to heart attacks or even death in some cases. Despite efforts to train employees, in a heated situation they may act on impulse and use the weapon when not absolutely necessary.

We have seen this before. In 2009, a man died in the Los Angeles subway station after being stunned multiple times with a Taser, after charging and attempting to hit an officer. In 2008, we reported that the Greater Vancouver Transit Authority (TransLink) Police Service was investigated for allegedly using Tasers on riders evading fares. However, each use of the Taser was reviewed and found to be appropriate.  

Sen. Adams claims that training transit workers to use the weapons “will end the assaults” and be “a strong deterrent against crime against our riders on the buses and trains,” according to New York Daily News. Additionally, the Transport Workers Union Local 100 supports the proposal, saying that more than 1,000 transit workers are attacked each year, and Livery Base Owners, a business association, asked the Taxi and Limousine Commission to let drivers bring guns to work for protection against violent passengers.

Police Commissioner Raymond Kelly shot down both ideas, saying the weapons take a lot of training and are only given to sergeants and Emergency Services Unit officers. Both the New York Metropolitan Transportation Authority and the Taxi and Limousine Commission have indicated they are not on board either.

Michigan’s state House doesn’t agree, though. It just passed a three-bill package allowing citizens with a concealed pistol license to carry a Taser, The Detroit News reported. Michigan lawmakers are also reviewing a bill that would expedite the process for obtaining a concealed weapon permit and let some licensed gun owners with additional training to carry concealed pistols in typically pistol-free zones, such as schools, hospitals and bars. Meanwhile, according to The Detroit News, Amnesty International reported that at least 13 people have died in Michigan since 2001 after being shocked by a Taser during an arrest or while in jail.

I am all for preventing violence against transit workers and passengers, but I wonder whether the use of a weapon like a Taser is really the answer. Do you think Tasers will help drivers mitigate attacks?

In case you missed it...

Read our METRO blog, "Take me out to the ballgame on transit" here.

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