Friday, September 28, 2018

Not Quite Like on Star Trek (Sheriff's Course, Week 3)

"Phasers on stun." When Captain Kirk issued this command, you knew our intrepid heroes were about to go into a situation. But their wonderful technology would give them the edge; they could temporarily incapacitate any hostile aliens without breaking a sweat, and an hour or so later the aliens would wake up again with no worse impacts than a bit of confusion and a mild headache.  So when I learned that we were going to talk about tasers last week, can you blame me for thinking that they were going to be similar to these convenient sci-fi gadgets? I mean, the names even rhyme!

Spoiler alert: real life is messier than even beloved nostalgic television shows. Real-life tasers are far more limiting than Star Trek's weapons. In real life, a taser shoots two tiny darts that trail hair-thin copper (?) wire to carry a 5-second electric jolt. And after that 5 seconds, it's over and they're up again, no hour-long down time to clean up. Range is limited to around 20 feet and those wires make a physical connection in order to work, so you're basically "tethered" to the person. There's lots of limitations (can't aim for the chest because if the person has a pacemaker the jolt could disrupt it, for example) and many opportunities for a miss. The two darts come out together and one goes straight and one curves downward so there is a good separation between the two to allow the electric jolt to be more effective, but that also increases the likelihood for one dart to miss the body, for example. This happened in the demonstration shot our instructor did for us, shooting at a life-size standup cardboard target with a photo of guy with his fists up, set expression on his face. So these things certainly aren't the panacea that are on TV. They can't just walk into a situation and assume they can safely zap their way back out of it.

Which led to a whole conversation about levels of resistance, 6 of them ranging from grumbling but compliant, through passively resisting, to physically aggressive; and appropriate escalating levels of response. You can know on an intuitive level about escalating and de-escalating, what seems appropriate and what would make the front page of the Washington Post, but this was the first time I had it articulated and quantified quite so clearly. I was listening, and paying attention, and taking notes, and the lecture made sense. However, I kept looking over at the target. Had he been just an ambiguous silhouette, or if he had the face of a certain political figure I am known to detest, it would have been different. It would have been easy to "shoot" him. But this guy? He was ordinary. He could have been someone I knew, could have been a neighbor or fellow boat-owner. I certainly made me pause for that extra microsecond. Stuff just got real.

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