Taser Use on College Campuses Not a 'One Size Fits All' Policy

Violence is an unfortunate part of life that can threaten anywhere, including college campuses. How campus police departments react to and handle violent situations tends to differ from one institution to another. One policy that has been debated is that of Taser use. In the past, such show of force has been questioned. So how, Education Insider asks, should colleges deal with this issue?

By Harrison Howe


A Show of Force

While not common, Taser use on college campuses isn't unheard of, either. But when it does happen, word - and YouTube videos - tends to get around. Incidents at a UCLA library in 2006 and during a John Kerry campaign speech at University of Florida in 2007, for instance, were recorded and aired online.

Both occurrences resulted in an outcry of excessive force and abuse of power. The publicity fed fuel to the debate about Taser use at colleges and universities across the country, but it was a debate that had for the most part quieted.

However, a Taser incident at University of Cincinnati in August, 2011 that led to the death of a high school student named Everette Howard, on campus attending college preparatory classes, has once again focused attention on the debate about Taser use on college campuses. It has also led to a closer scrutiny of the policies at individual schools when it comes to Tasering.

Taser Use Governed on a School-by-School Basis

Basically, there are no national guidelines or rules when it comes to the use of Tasers at higher education institutions. Best practices and tiered responses are suggested by the Police Assessment Resource Center (PARC), and some schools do follow these suggestions, but for the most part no two schools seem to have exactly the same policy. Some, like UCLA, call for Taser use only on 'violent subjects'. Others, including University of Florida, allows for Tasers only as a last resort. In the wake of unfortunate results such as that at the University of Cincinnati and even those which have occurred outside of college campuses, the policies at some institutions have been modified.

For instance, the new policy at University of Florida now describes a step-by-step process. In the 2007 incident, the subject was immediately confronted by police escorts and Tasered when he refused to cooperate. Now, guidelines instruct a staff member to ask an individual who might not belong on the premises to leave. If that approach fails, only then are campus police alerted to respond. The new policy allows for a less confrontational resolution.

At UCLA, the individual Tasered in 2006 was already subdued before the device was used. At the time, UCLA cited a policy that allowed for Taser use even against 'passive resisters'. Recently, UCLA has stated that its policy toward the use of force and Tasers has been changed. Use of Tasers is now employed only against violent or aggressive individuals. One added step is that officers must warn the subject that he or she could be Tasered.

In Cincinnati, the university says officers acted according to guidelines in the confrontation with Howard, who was in an agitated state and uncooperative to verbal commands. The Taser was employed when Howard approached the officers with fists balled and did not heed instructions to halt his progress. Warnings of Taser use were reportedly given to Howard before the device was activated.

With many reports suggesting that Tasers are generally safe for use and can deter violence, it is expected that many colleges and universities will continue to equip campus police with these devices. Proper monitoring and adherence to guidelines, it is believed, can help to prevent tragedies in the future.

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