Tuesday, January 31, 2012

Erstwhile Playthings

"The park ranger encountered Gary Hesterberg with his two small dogs Sunday afternoon at Rancho Corral de Tierra, which was recently incorporated into the Golden Gate National Recreation Area, said Howard Levitt, a spokesman for the park service.

Hesterberg, who said he didn't have identification with him, allegedly gave the ranger a false name, Levitt said.

The ranger, who wasn't identified, asked Hesterberg to remain at the scene, Levitt said. He tried several times to leave, and finally the ranger "pursued him a little bit and she did deploy her" electric-shock weapon, Levitt said. "That did stop him."
Rancho Corral de Tierra has long been an off-leash walking spot for local dog owners. In December, the area became part of the national park system, which requires that all dogs be on a leash, Levitt said."
SF Gate

Two ways to look at this story, and I think one of them is appropriate.
1. It is good that the Park Ranger had a taser to use on this miscreant, otherwise he may have died from gunfire.
2. When did it become appropriate for Park Rangers to taser peaceful park inhabitants?

In light of option one, is walking a dog off a leash, and according to the circumstances described in the article, causing no commotion a crime worthy of gunfire?
In light of option two, will we reach the point again in the future where it is inappropriate for park rangers to taser peaceful people?

These instruments are not toys. I remember when these were initially introduced to the public through local police departments, it was claimed that they were for use only in situations where a firearm would normally be used. Over the past 4 years, the taser has evolved into another tool one that can be exercised by an officer in situations where a firearm would be inappropriate. Like other tools in the police arsenal, it has the potential to be used well, or to be abused. While I am not claiming all such uses are inappropriate, there is a startling array of cases where they are used in a manner that seems completely out of line with the situation. (See, University of Florida (Don't tase me bro! & Chicago
Oakland's sitting baseball fan, Pittsburgh's tasering and beating at a Pirates game, Pennsylvania man tasered fighting his own house fire.)

Part of the problem lies with the accountability of officers for the use of the weapons. For example, in Illinois there is no review process or record of a situation in which a taser is used. The opposite is true with firearms. This dichotomy obviously is the root of the taser's evolution, from a 'non-lethal' alternative to gun fire to a device for the application of extreme force for routine encounters. Tasers are not toys, and their use should not be taken lightly. In that regard, I applaud my hometown of Keller for eschewing their use and showing restraint in moving forward with the application of this new 'non-lethal' device. 

Returning to the other coast, the most telling statement from the Park Department:
"The ranger was trying to educate residents of the rule, Levitt said."
Because we all know education by force is the reason for state parks.