More Taser accountability

My mother had a philosophy when I was growing up: Don’t beat your kids, even if they deserve it.

Even after we moved to Louisiana where whoopings–” or paddlings as they called them–”were commonplace, especially in school, she was very explicit with my teachers, assistant principals and principals. My sister and I weren’t to be touched.

Even as my cousins were marched out to my grandmother’s front lawn to select their branch, or switch, to whoop them with, my sister and I would just watch.

In hindsight, my mother surely had moments when she questioned her philosophy, thinking a spanking or two would’ve made us act right.

But she had other tools in her toolbox to gain control. In many cases, all it took was a furrowed brow to stop me from slouching on the uncomfortable church pew or to remember to cross my legs when I was wearing a dress. It wasn’t physical force, but the threat of something bad to come was enough.

As Reporter Kelly Virella details in this issue’s cover story, correctional officers also have an arsenal at their disposal, including Tasers. But in several cases, it’s questionable whether the stungun- type device was being used appropriately.

In several cases, Tasers were allegedly being used by officials at the Jerome Combs Detention Center, in Kankakee, Ill., like a toy–”scoping the red laser light at people. In other cases, they were being used to coerce good behavior. In one example, a Taser was used on a detainee when he became belligerent, refusing to open his hands to be fingerprinted.

But the device is not supposed to be used that way.

Instead, Tasers are supposed to be used as a lastresort when other measures can’t control a detainee.

I’m not saying Tasers shouldn’t be used. But Virella’s reporting points out that there are some flaws in oversight that need to be corrected. The number of Taser firings at the jail are severely underreported. There appears to be a lack of training and confusion about when to use Tasers. And while the policy at Cook County Jail is not to use them, its detainees are transferred to Kankakee when they get too rowdy or the jail gets overcrowded. That poses a fundamental question: If Cook County Jail doesn’t use Tasers, is it appropriate to send its detainees to a jail that does?

I’m not saying that correctional officers should trade nonlethal devices for furrowed eyebrows. But in cases where Tasers are used, perhaps officers should view them as they would their guns. Would an officer pull a gun on a detainee for balling their fists and refusing to be fingerprinted? Probably not.

Correctional institutions should be clear about how Tasers should be used, provide better monitoring of their use, and discipline officers who break the rules.

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