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May 4, 2010

BP Unfiltered

Excessive Force

by Colin Wyers

It seems that every so often, a baseball fan decides to become a larger part of the action than he should and steps onto the field. This is almost always a bad idea. Sometimes it leads to a really inspiring moment.

Most of the time, though, it leads to a brief interruption of the game for most fans, and a night in jail for the one responsible.

Last night, though, it resulted in a Tasing. Should it have?

Let’s start off by saying – the guy on the field was doing something he shouldn’t have been. And he seemed to be enjoying it precisely for that reason. Most of us have a natural inclination to dislike a guy who behaves that poorly in public, so it’s hard to muster too much sympathy for him. (And, for his part, he’s being charged with criminal trespassing.)

But that doesn’t really answer the question of whether or not he should have been Tased. Rights exist even for people who aren’t very likable. You can dislike the guy and what he did, and still argue that he shouldn’t have been dealt with in that fashion.

Let me go ahead and give you some background, so you know where I’m coming from on this. I spent five years in the Marine Corps. Along the way, I’ve had more training classes than I care to recall on things like use of force. I won’t pretend that this is exactly the same as being a cop (although there is more overlap between “policing” and “combat” roles these days than one might think). And I won’t pretend that the Marine Corps’ guidelines are the same everywhere. But I think there are some general principles I can broadly apply here.

At the root of the matter is the idea of proportionate force – using exactly as much force as is required to subdue the threat. In order to gauge what force was proportionate, we relied upon the continuum of force.

 1. Compliant (cooperative): Verbal commands.

 2. Resistant (passive): Contact controls.

 3. Resistant (active): Compliance techniques.

 4. Assaultive (bodily harm): Defensive tactics.

 5. Assaultive (serious bodily harm/death): Deadly force.

In this instance, the suspect was certainly not compliant (at least, we think – we have no idea if the officers issued any verbal commands, but I think we have to assume they did), but he was far from assaultive. There was no reason to think he was an imminent threat to commit bodily harm in any capacity.

Some here are going to say, “Well, he could have been.” Sure. But by that standard, you have to suspect that everyone could pose a threat of bodily harm. (And that’s really not a bad attitude to adopt, in certain circumstances.) But it’s not sufficient cause to escalate the force you’re willing to use – there’s no evidence that this person had any intent to cause harm.

So you’re left with the person being resistant, either active or passive. We’ll never know which – no effort was made to secure compliance through physical contact. If you grab a guy and he stops resisting, that’s passive resistance. If he starts to struggle, that’s active resistance. You can attempt to deal with active resistance through several means – the phrase “compliance techniques” really means the application of physical pain in such a way as to minimize the risk of serious harm.

Yes, it’s physically demanding work. And there is some slight risk of personal harm (although if you’re a guy that size and you can’t take down a kid that size, you might want to find a line of work that doesn’t involve physical security). But that’s what these guys are paid for.

The simple fact of the matter is that there were several, lesser alternatives to Tasing that were appropriate to the situation at hand and that should have been tried before resorting to more severe means of gaining compliance. That they weren’t at the very least speaks poorly of the judgment of the officer involved.

Colin Wyers is an author of Baseball Prospectus. 
Click here to see Colin's other articles. You can contact Colin by clicking here

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