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WEDNESDAY, DECEMBER 28, 2005
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EDITORIAL

Fatal police shooting helps make case for Taser use

By now we have seen the amateur video dozens of times on television. A large man armed with a knife on St. Charles Avenue in New Orleans on Monday afternoon refused for several minutes to comply with police orders to drop the weapon and lie down.

At least 15 officers had the 38-year-old New Orleans resident surrounded. When he refused to comply with orders, they sprayed him with pepper mace, which was ineffective.

As the man slowly walked around waving his arms, police trained their guns on him. He didn't appear menacing, but he wasn't cooperating, either.

That is where the video ends because the amateur videographer, Phin Percy, left his second-story window perch to rush to the scene. While he was running down the stairs, Mr. Percy said, he heard numerous gunshots. When he arrived on the street, the knife-wielder's body was lying against a car.

The menacing man later died from the gunshot wounds.

There is no question the man with the knife should have obeyed police orders. We have no idea what motivated him to brandish the knife in public or what sparked his refusal to comply with police. Witnesses said the man was involved in an altercation inside a store just moments earlier. Some said the man was often seen downtown and appeared mentally unstable, although he had never harmed anyone.

A police spokesman says officers fired on the knife-wielder when he lunged at an officer. It may have been a case of "suicide by cop," but we will probably never know for certain.

It is evident from those startling images that officers needed something they did not have — a way to make the man cooperate. They needed something stronger than the pepper spray and pointed guns, which did not work, but less lethal than bullets.

A stun gun, or Taser, subdues a person by administering an electric shock to temporarily disrupt muscular functions and thus paralyze the target. Several Valley police departments utilize Tasers to subdue uncooperative subjects.

The use of an electric shock may initially seem cruel — and potentially dangerous to the elderly or those with heart conditions.

But the results are much more desirable than a dead body on the street and dozens of officers with psychological scars.

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