Use of Tasers by University Security Guards

Last year I posted over on the Shoup blog about an incident in which UCLA security guards tasered a student 5 times in the Library. The accompanying video seems to show a situation in which, in my opinion, security guards indulge themselves in an entirely unnecessary power trip. You can read more of my response in the link above

Yesterday at a debate with Senator Kerry, security guards at the University of Florida used a taser on a student who went over his alloted question time:

I showed this to a friend and his response was that the student seems to be deliberately escalating the situation. Personally, I find the situation disturbing because of how quickly the security guards escalate the situation in the first place, by grabbing him. What do all of you think?

Aside from the questions of free speech this video raises is the question of the situations in which security guards or police officers choose to use tasers. After the incident at UCLA, the university commissioned an independent investigation, which said:

We find that one UCLAPD officer violated UCLA use of force policies in the incident. We further conclude that UCLAPD’s current policies are, in any event, unduly permissive, giving the police unnecessary latitude, and are inconsistent with the policies of other universities and leading police departments across the country, including other University of California campuses, the LAPD, and the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department (LASD). The UCLAPD policy stands alone in its legitimization of the Taser as a pain compliance device against passive resisters.

The last sentence is a key one for those who commit acts of passive resistance to police officers. What pain compliance techniques are likely to be used in these situations? In the St. Patrick’s day incident I wrote about last spring police officers threatened people with a taser but ended up using physical grappling instead to “subdue” members of the parade.

Farhad Manjoo at said:

Don’t university cops have YouTube, too? These people work in the most visible environments in the world, where every witness has both a cellphone cam and a broadband connection and knows how to use them. You’d suppose that after just one of these well-publicized incidents, every campus P.D. in the nation would decide that whatever advantage there might be in using the Taser, the inevitable fallout is too much.

Of course, it’s important to remember in this discussion that this kind of behavior and much worse happens off video, usually to people of color and/or those without power. The recent story in New York in which NYPD veteran says cops beat, Tasered teen son at barbecue seems to be a situation in which police underestimated the connections of one young African-American man.

Comments (6)

  1. dave

    Tim… thanks for posting this. I was going to write about it and didn’t get around to it today.

    I agree with you that it appears that the police escalated the incident, especially when it was because he stayed too long at a microphone and Sen. Kerry was saying something to the effect of, “Stop, I will answer his question.”

    Did the student further escalate things? Probably – he did resist when the police used force, which is almost never a winnable situation. But the quick use of force to pull him out of the room, and then the quick use of the taser, is more than disturbing.

    I would argue that the use of a taser at all is quite disturbing, as more and more frequently it is causing more physical injuries (and even death) than they are “supposed to” cause.

  2. pulpmountain

    As the friend Tim showed this to, please allow me to clarify my response. First of all, the police’s response was way over the top- no question about it. However, my response was accurately reported- the student seemed to be deliberately escalating the situation.

    The student wasn’t really looking to ask a question, per se, he was there to make a point.

    1. The person filming the incident says:
    “I couldnt (sic) get to my camera in time to record his entrance, but this guy basically comes running in with 4 or 5 cops in tow and says he has been running around trying to get in to ask a question and the cops are going to arrest him for it.” When he does arrive, the cops do not prevent him from asking the question, but do appear to be guarding him very carefully. I don’t know what sparked their initial distrust of this guy, but obviously there is more that proceeds the filming.

    2. After he asks each of the first 2 questions, he twice rebuffs someone in the background saying that he is going to inform the people, and that Kerry has had enough time to talk. The fellow isn’t particularly interested in Kerry’s response. He’s there to get HIS message across. Perfectly valid tactic, but he isn’t there for a respectful Q&A session.

    3. While the police get physical unnecessarily quickly, the fellow is clearly “resisting arrest”- non-violently, but actively. And he continues to speak in a way to draw maximum attention. “Is anyone getting this?” He knows the gig is up, but wants to draw out the moment, and the rougher the police get, the longer the moment is drawn out. He calls for help long before the police use the taser of (it appears) use any pain tactics.

    To be clear- I’m not saying he went looking for a good tasering that morning, but I think he went to create as big a scene as possible to get his point across and he he used the escalation to further that aim. Minus the tasering, I suspect he had a decent idea how this would play out and went in with his eyes open and clear protest-oriented tactics.

    Basically, my only point is that this is a case of clear police overreaction to an intentionally provocative disruption, not just goons attacking someone with an innocent question out of the blue.

    Both show the police in a bad light, but they are different. In changing police behavior, I think its important to differentiate between situations. This looks (to me) to be a case of bad training and overly permissive procedures more than rogue cops out for a beat-down. In the first case, there is a decent opportunity to treat the officers with of humanity and reform them and their policies. Far less so with the latter.

  3. Bruce Leichty

    Is it just a coincidence that this guy’s mike was cut when he confronted Kerry about his membership in the same secret society as Bush? (Skull and Bones at Yale). Tsk, tsk, there are just some questions you are not allowed to ask in public in this country.

    From the video posted here, it is not possible to see how long Meyer was speaking before he got to the secret societies question, but the police clearly had not intervened at that point. It was only when Meyer’s mike was cut that he gets upset and the cops move in, and even then, it is fair to ask whether there were measures other than the police grabbing him that could have been employed to deal with Meyer’s unhappiness. Kerry himself is heard to say during the scuffling that he has asked a very important question (which question he means is not clear), and that he will answer it.

    Major media covered the story very selectively, which is par for the course. CNN showed the scuffling but not the question that was cut off. The local news-face here said only that Meyer was asking “challenging questions” to Kerry at the time.

    On the other hand, it would not surprise me to hear that Meyer knew what was coming (as implied in one of the other posts here). One of my colleagues noted rather impatiently that this story, like so many other, functions as a distraction from the real important issue of the day, which is not Kerry and Bush and the 2004 election and their membership in Skull and Bones, but the ongoing killing in Iraq. And let me add that the real important question about the Iraq war may be the twin questions of the influence of Bush and his oil baron friends and the pro-Israel neocon forces which have been practically untouchable in modern day America, in part because of the “Holocaust” holiness factor. Finally, I would also add that the real important question about “secret societies” is not Skull and Bones, it is rather the ongoing influence of and lack of accountability of plain vanilla freemasonic and other secret societies in our local communities and on the national scene day in and day out, which few Christians pay any attention to at all. Mennonites used to, at least to some degree.

  4. DevanD

    I did not know about what happened before the kid came to the podium. It puts a new light on it.

    Two questions arise from this:

    Was the student aggressive?

    Were the police aggressive?

    Police, by the very nature of their profession, will be aggressive. So, the kid knew he was risking arrest or detainment by standing on his soapbox. However, I get the feeling that the officers present got miffed because they felt like they couldn’t “control” the situation. Me, personally, I don’t think there’s much situation to control; the kid was asking questions and making points. Anyone who has been to a university where a marginally controversial speaker comes knows full well that someone is going to flap their gums for a while, and you have to let them do it. He said he was going to ask three questions. He finished asking his last question and they cut his mic and then arrested him, not waiting to see how he would act after asking his final question.

    Was the student aggressive? It is absurd to think that taking a long time to ask a question is aggressive; it is normal for someone to provide context for their question, as he did (though maybe toooo much context).

    Therefore, if he wasn’t aggressive, then what was the grounds for arresting him. Trespassing? He’s a student at the university. Public disruption? Maybe, though that’s a stretch.

    My last thoughts: Kerry is not someone worth getting arrested over. He’s a tool and I’m glad he lost the election in 2004. Though, I witnessed disenfranchisement of voters in Ohio first-hand, so the student’s point was valid.

  5. dave

    John Stewart sums it up, as always, better than anyone else can (hope this doesn’t cross any line):

    An unfortunate combination of police over-reaction and what appears to be student douche-baggery.

  6. Thomas

    HI there,

    Yes this was a very interesting incident, I think there is no doubt that the student reacted so visibly in order to draw a reaction from the security…”the fact that someone is being observed (filmed) changes will definatly change the subject’s behaviour…

    A look at the student’s website ( would suggst he’s a keen prankster, as most students can be! (see the you tube clips on his site) So he could have easily staged the event in some ways if he wanted…

    Of course NONE of this justifies the tazer’ing I guess, but there is a longer video of the event here in case you haven’t seen it…… which shows the build up….

    Either way, makes some of us glad we didn’t go to an American Unisversity!

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