Taser use reveals the shocking truth

The next time a peaceful public demonstration gets out of hand in Pittsburgh, don?t be surprised if the police don?t know what to do.
The Pittsburgh City Police has no policies guiding its officers? behavior during crowd or riot control. Such an oversight is surprising, considering the level of political activism this city has experienced in recent years and especially considering the infamous Hill District?s race riots of the late 1960s. It should come as no shock that the August 20 demonstration outside Oakland?s Forbes Avenue Army recruiting center ignited a firestorm of controversy.
This past February, when City Councilman Sala Udin pushed for Pittsburgh?s Police Bureau to adopt the use of Tasers, did he consider that problems like this might happen? In September, he told the Post-Gazette the legislation was to ???prevent the loss of life? and not ?to use Taser guns for crowd control or for someone who was mildly resisting officers? orders or arrest.? ?
Something went wrong: police tasered at least two protestors in Oakland on August 20, and they used pepper spray on several others. The Tasers used weren?t simple, hand-held Tasers; police Taser guns shoot two barbed hooks straight through the skin, delivering up to 50,000 volts of electricity along with them. People have even died after Taser exposure, though it has not been proven that Tasers are a direct cause of death.
Beth Pittinger, Executive Director for the Citizens Police Review Board (CPRB), told The Tartan that during the confusion, ?the rules of engagement didn?t exist; neither side knew what was going on.? But the sad truth is that one of those sides should have known, and that?s the problem.
In 2003, the CPRB asked for a crowd management policy from the Bureau. No policy has come. Instead, the public has submitted a slew of complaints regarding police misconduct and inappropriate use of force ? 4081 complaints since December 2004, to be exact. Not all could be solved with just a single policy, considering Pittsburgh?s police force is stretched so thinly, ever since City Hall decided to cut down on police and fire personnel. But concrete guidelines would mend a major hole in the force?s current set of conduct guidelines.
The problems exhibited by police on August 20 were not limited to the misuse of Tasers and pepper spray. No police commander was on the scene to oversee the officers? action, according to Pittinger. Why hasn?t there been more public outcry about the lack of crowd control policies? Yes, limiting the issue of Taser use contains the matter in a simpler, more media-friendly uproar. But both Pittsburghers and city police officers would be protected by a formal set of guidelines for crowd control.