Police Turn to Tasers to Stop People Who Threaten with Knives
The Columbus Dispatch
The police shooting of 23-year-old Nahum Ramos early Saturday left his family and friends -- including the woman who called police -- wondering why he had to die."
The lead paragraph of Dispatch Reporter Misti Crane''s Feb. 2 story implicitly raised the question: Why do police have to shoot to kill when threatened by people armed with knives, in Ramos'' case, a pocketknife?
In a Dec. 19 editorial, "Is there a better way? Police should pursue development, use of nonlethal weapons," this newspaper noted that Tasers are being used successfully elsewhere to subdue violent subjects who pose a threat to police and others.
Tasers fire two darts attached to wires from a distance of 15 to 21 feet. The darts deliver a shock of up to 50,000 volts, temporarily incapacitating the person, who then can be disarmed and safely taken into custody.
The Defensive Tactics Unit of the Columbus Division of Police has Tasers deployed for testing and evaluation, though there is no record of their having been used in the line of duty.
But there is a danger in prescribing high-tech solutions for every dangerous situation that a police officer might encounter. There isn''t always the time or opportunity to pursue alternative approaches.
Could Ramos have been subdued with a Taser, had the officer who responded been equipped with one? That''s certainly possible.
Could Ramos have severely injured or even killed the officer with the pocketknife? That, too, is possible.
As Columbus police showed in a televised demonstration in response to Ramos'' death, a knife-wielding person could lunge and slash an officer''s throat in an instant.
"Knives are a deadly-force situation," detective Tim Halbakken remarked at the time. Officers are trained to respond with a firearm when attacked with a knife.
As Tasers gain wider acceptance and use around the country, there are some encouraging signs that they can be especially effective in controlling people armed with knives:
- On Jan. 5, Denver Officer Anselmo Jamillo responded to a domestic-violence complaint and eventually faced Fred Chavez, who had forced his way into a neighbor''s house and was brandishing a knife, waving it in the officer''s direction. Jamillo holstered his gun, fired his Taser and arrested the man without injury to himself or Chavez.
- On Jan. 20, a 15-year-old boy threatened an officer with a knife outside Weston Elementary School in Ripon, Calif. Another officer crept up behind the boy and shot him with a Taser. The boy was handcuffed without further incident.
- Last year, an irate Englewood, Colo., man with two knives taped to his wrists, confronted local police responding to a vague trouble call at a private residence. The man held one knife to his throat and challenged the officers to shoot him, then slammed the door in their faces. Police kicked down the door and shot the man with a Taser. He fell down and was taken into custody.
Police departments in Denver and Cincinnati have moved aggressively to train and equip their officers with Tasers in response to criticism over the shooting of civilians by police, including some cases that were racially sensitive.
Police officers often have to make split-second decisions during intense confrontations with violent, out-of-control subjects. People who threaten officers with knives or guns shouldn''t expect to be handled with care.
Columbus police have been moving responsibly into the areas of new technology, and Taser weapons may someday offer officers an option in dealing with suspects armed with knives and other cutting instruments.
Not every situation lends itself to that type of response, and officers shouldn''t be blamed for protecting their own lives when threatened by people who disregard their own safety and the safety of others.