5-5-10: Tased and Confused

Hello again everybody...

Happy Wednesday to you! It's all downhill from here, right? I sure hope so. Three days into this week and I'm still trying to get used to the changes that have happened already at work, and also trying to mentally gird myself for the changes that are right around the corner.

My bosses would be more than a touch annoyed if I went into detail about things, but suffice to say that the staff roster has changed considerably over the last month, and is going to continue to change as this month goes along.

So far, everything's been happening on the periphery of my position, and hopefully it stays that way.

(But if anybody has need of a sharp, quick-learning, tech-literate, highly mobile employee? I'm certainly willing to listen!)

How do I escape from the wackiness of the working world?

By providing you, my dear readers, with all the sports-related inanity I can muster!

Today's topic? How should we be handling unruly fans?

Let's get to it!

”It's a lot like nature. You can only have as many animals as the ecosystem can support and you can only have as many friends as you can tolerate the bitching of.”
- R. K. Millholland, webcomic author

WftC Translation: I don't like people that much...

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Ever get the urge to jump a wall and run around on the field? Take a moment to read and ponder...

Tased and Confused

For those of you who've been living under a rock for the past few days, I'll point you to this article which is led by this paragraph:

A police officer used a Taser gun to apprehend a fan who ran onto the field during a Phillies game Monday night, and the team and the police are investigating whether it was an appropriate use of force.

You didn't see the video? Well I'm glad you asked! Here it is!

As you can see, it appears to be a silly fan looking for his 15 minutes of “fame” by running around on the field and making a jackass of himself. Usually when that happens, you see the jackass get tackled by security personnel and hauled off to jail. Not this time. This time, the officer hits him with a taser and briefly incapacitates the jackass so that he can more easily be detained and hauled off to jail.

So that leads us to some inevitable quandaries. Is that a reasonable use of force? Or does it unnecessarily endanger someone who didn't appear to be an obvious threat?

I first saw the story yesterday morning on ESPN. Over the course of the next 24 hours, I changed my opinion on it several times. A lot of people want to simplify it. Make it a black and white issue. But I'm not sure it's all that simple.

On the one hand, when a fan jumps onto the field of play, there's no way we can really know what their intentions are. When you watch the video, it doesn't seem like the jackass' intention was to harm anyone, but if security personnel take the time to try and figure that out, it could be too late. We've seen Monica Seles get stabbed by a crazed fan in 1993. We've seen Royals first base coach Tom Gamboa getting attacked by a couple of drunken buffoons in 2002. We've seen Jermaine O'Neal's fist get bruised by an idiotic fan's face in 2004.

(Okay, that last one's stretching it a bit, but make no mistake, that brawl between the Pistons and the Pacers is certainly worth considering given the subject we're discussing.)

If the deployment of a taser is going to prevent a coach or athlete from being injured, then it seems like a reasonable use of force.

The problem is that the use of a taser has been linked to cardiac incidents. In this article from the Atlanta Journal Constitution, they say:

There have been more than 400 deaths [in police custody] in the U.S. and 26 in Canada since 2001, according to a study by the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation. Tasers have contributed to more than 30 of those deaths, according to medical examiners.

That computes to approximately 7% of those deaths being “contributed to” by the use of a taser. I'm no statistician, so I can't tell you mathematically how significant that number is, but it sure doesn't seem “insignificant”.

So as with most things law enforcement-related, when I'm searching for perspective, I go to my dad, a retired Inspector with the Hennepin County Sheriff's Office. So I sent him a text last night asking for his thoughts. His response:

“You know me, I have no problem lighting him up! Dance mailman!”

(A “Cheers” reference in case you didn't catch it.) I asked if I could quote him on that, figuring he'd want a chance to elaborate, and he did:

“Of course! Tasers cause less damage to both cops and bad guys than physically fighting them.”

That seemed to make sense to me. If you believe the 7% we discussed earlier to be less than the casualty rate of physical contact, and if you believe that the causal link between tasers and cardiac incidents is tenuous at best, then there's no question that using a taser maintains a certain physical distance between criminal and police officer. Ergo, it's safer.

That's still a lot of “ifs” though.

The one argument I definitely dismiss is the notion of “deterrence”. Deterrence only works if one assumes that the person about to commit a crime goes through a logical thought process of saying, “I kind of want to commit this crime, but if I do and get caught, then this really unfortunate thing is going to happen to me.”

I'm willing to wager that in most cases of fans jumping onto playing fields, that thought process doesn't occur.

In the case that we're talking about today, the jackass actually called his father, asking if his dad thought it would be a good idea for him to run onto the field. His dad's response was something along the lines of “Well gee Son, I don't think that's a very good idea.” Way to take a stand, Dad!

The jackass' response? “This is a once in a lifetime opportunity”, and off he went.

Nowhere in there is any evidence that leads me to believe that knowledge that someone else had been tased in a similar incident would have stopped him from going on the field himself.

So taking all of that into account: the safety of the players, coaches and ultimately the idiots who jump onto the field in the first place, I guess I've come to a conclusion.

As long as the police/security personnel who are armed with tasers have proper training, and don't get trigger happy - I mean try to grab the guy, if he refuses to obey commands, then light him up - I really don't have much of a problem with the use of the taser on fans who jump onto the field. The announcements are clearly made prior to each game, and we've all seen what happens when the rules are broken.

I still have a small bit of hesitation. Obviously, I'd hate to see someone die from a simple attempt at crowd control. But I'm fairly confident that with appropriate training and precautions, the chances of that are negligible.

The bottom line is that all of us, players, coaches, security, and yes, fans, are responsible for our collective safety at sporting events. Jumping on the field is a direct threat to that safety, and should be treated as such.

That's going to wrap it up today. One more column to go this week... and we all know what that will entail, right?

Until Friday, thanks for reading!


  1. Statistics? Glad you asked.

    This is a table regarding deaths in state prisons from 2001-2006, from the US Dept of Justice, Bureau of Justice Statistics.

    It's pretty vague, but their numbers are NOTHING like the numbers you got from the article in the AJC (who claim their numbers from CBC, whose report I could not find).

    Supposing you look at that table, and you add up all the numbers for non-disease (15,335 over 6 years) and non-AIDS (1,154) deaths, you get just over 2000 deaths...I can't figure out how they get "more than 400". Even "Accident" + "Other/unknown" is less than 400.

    In my humble opinion, disease prevention and medical treatment would be a better use of time and money than restricting use of a tool in non-lethal crime prevention.

    (your dad and I have agreed twice now!)

  2. I hope he sees that! Thanks for the numbers!

  3. I have one question, do your statistics show what other medical conditions the people who have died from being tased may have suffered from prior to being tased; ie. under the influence of drugs, alcohol, level of intoxication from either, or prior heart conditions? Besides, doesn't it go to your theory of "thinning of the herd"?


  4. I came down on your side on this one pop... don't push it! ;-)

  5. I would just say that I don't think that police should have to alter protocol because there are 45,000 people with I-phones watching. If the S.O.P. is to taze a person who is evading arrest then they are completely within their ... See Morerights to do that weather they are on a baseball field or in a dark alley. The Jackass knew that running onto the field was not going to turn out well, so I have a hard time drumming up sympathy for him.
    Also I have to side with your old man on the taser deaths. From what I understand the vast majority of deaths from a stun gun are usually caused when the perp is jacked up on speed and their heart explodes. Again no sympathy for you sorry.
    I agree that the deterrent factor is a little over-hyped, but that might have a lot to do with social media. The old standard was that a fan who ran on the field got no air time. With smart phones and you tube that is no longer the case. Police could shoot a guy on the field and someone else would probably rush the field to get shot on you tube so that is a problem with no real solution. Perhaps if they had made more public the fact that this kid pissed himself in front of 45,000 people it might serve as a better deterrent. I'm all for lifetime bans for fans who disrupt the game. You obviously have no respect for it so you are no longer allowed to participate.
    That's my 5 cents.


  6. There is a good chance that this Phillies fan is also a fan of the Flyers.

    If that is the case not only do I not have a problem with him being tased but I highly encourage it.