Editorial: Taser issue merits study

Published 12:00 am Wednesday, April 1, 2009

The possible reduction in the number of school resource officers in Rowan-Salisbury schools is probably a more immediate concern for parents than whether those officers are allowed to carry ó and use ó Tasers on school grounds.
And that should be part of the underlying context for Taser discussions going forward as a committee delves into the issue. As we’ve seen from reaction to potential cutbacks in middle-school resource officers (or SROs), parents and school staff appreciate these officers’ presence in the schools. As much as we might wish for the more innocent days when the traffic-crossing cop was the only police presence needed, that time is gone, along with the notion that school campuses are somehow immune to the random acts of violence and mayhem that can occur anywhere else in a community, from a church sanctuary to a crowded shopping mall.
Schools need professional, well-trained resource officers, and no one wants to hamstring officers or deny them an enforcement option that can defuse a volatile situation without the use of firearms. But even though school campuses aren’t immune from random violence, whether instigated by adults or students, they’re also different from the streets surrounding them. The school setting calls for different protocols of response, especially regarding the use of potentially dangerous, if not deadly, force. Part of a school resource officer’s job is to head off potentially volatile situations before they reach the stage where he or she might need to resort to pepper spray, a Taser ó or worse. If these instances are actually occurring to the degree alleged, then there’s a larger problem here than the choice of defensive weapon.
Local law-enforcement agencies dispute the contention, raised at a recent meeting of the Rowan County Task Force for Child Abuse Prevention, that school resource officers are engaging in unwarranted Taser use. In fact, officers of the Salisbury Police Department and Rowan Sheriff’s Office don’t routinely carry Tasers, although some SROs from other local police departments are equipped with them. That points to one lack that this committee should address. It shouldn’t be a happenstance of geography whether a school resource officer carries a Taser. Working in concert with law-enforcement agencies, school officials and some community input, the committee should develop a systemwide policy on whether SROs should have the option of carrying Tasers.
As part of developing such a policy, however, the committee will first need to get to the heart of the issue: Can it document any instances where school officers used Tasers when their use was not clearly justified? That’s the basis for the committee’s work and the question it needs to answer. Local local enforcement agencies deny such misuse is happening or has happened. It’s to their benefit as much as anyone else’s to clarify the reality here. If such abuse isn’t occurring, officers shouldn’t be unfairly portrayed. If some SROs are exercising such poor judgment, it’s not just the Tasers that need to be removed from the schools but the officers themselves.