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Tasers and the Flagler County School Board: Feeble Surrender to an Instrument of Torture

| October 9, 2011

Formerly known as schools.

They made their decision last Tuesday, our distinctly—in this case—less than honorable school board members. On the evidence of a single fight, a single video that the school superintendent herself wouldn’t release because she considers it too inflammatory (the sheriff released it), the Flagler County School Board voted 4-1 to allow school deputies to carry Tasers (with Colleen Conklin dissenting), reversing an agreement in place since 2007 that kept the weapons off campus except in dire emergencies. Now Tasers will be carried as a matter of routine. Let’s hope they won’t be used that way.

The vote doesn’t put the matter to rest. Not when hundreds, perhaps thousands, of parents’ fears have now been primed anew, and will remain that way permanently (as if parents these days of battering stress needed something else to worry about). There may have been some room to influence how Tasers would be used. Andy Dance, one of the board members, tried hard to compel the sheriff’s office to meet with Superintendent Janet Valentine and a task force that would have included concerned citizens to devise a different protocol for Taser use on campus than the one that applies elsewhere. Incredibly, Dance’s motion was watered down to irrelevance, with Sue Dickinson (who chairs the board) and David O’Brien, the undersheriff, saying the sheriff’s policies override those of the school board, though O’Brien was willing to talk with Valentine.

It was as if none of these officials had heard of—for instance—citizens’ review boards when it comes to dicey policing matters, this being one of them. That’s the least the superintendent and the sheriff’s office should do: develop a separate protocol for Taser use on campus, and establish a review board, including parents and students, that would review any and every use of Tasers on school properties. Instead, we have a superintendent and a board surrendering to whatever the sheriff asked for. No conditions, no questions, no courage. And they wonder why charter schools are booming at the rest of the school district’s expense. Spinelessness has its price.

The re-introduction of Tasers on campus is disturbing on many levels, not least of which the way the school board reached its decision—with no evidence other than a single videotaped fight at Matanzas High School—that uncontrollable violence is allegedly an issue, though even in that fight, the student was, in fact, controlled. Two adults were injured. But one was a cop, the other a security guard. Risk is part of their job description. The injuries were minor. The student was expelled. The system worked. Without Tasers, without gunshots, without barbaric means, but with the forceful and commendable policing the situation called for.

The Live Commentary

There is no evidence that Flagler schools are becoming more violent, or that students are becoming angrier, or stronger or more dangerous. If there is, it wasn’t given to the school board. What national numbers indicate is a significant decrease in school violence since the 1990s, not an increase. All those programs about diversity and difference and acceptance and nurturing that conservatives loved to bash in the 1990s and the early part of the last decade as testosterone-busting sap have had their desired effect: they’ve made students less aggressive by disarming innate prejudices and diminishing the mob force of peer pressure, though there’s still a long way to go (ask gay students).

Locally students are becoming perhaps dumber, what with shorter school days and standardized tests undercutting learning with more sustained effectiveness than the best bullies, but nothing has changed since 2007, except that classrooms are smaller, which should make them more manageable. Superintendent Janet Valentine told me that she didn’t know of another incident that might have called for the use of a Taser. Don Apperson, the corporal injured in the incident at Matanzas, told me he wasn’t sure whether he would have used a Taser or not in that fight, and (to his credit) hasn’t pulled a weapon in 11 years on the school beat. That’s the sign of an effective school cop. But not every cop is an Apperson. And knee-jerks aside, nothing compelled the board to change course, unless they’re hiding something. That would be a whole new level of disturbing.

The weapon’s proponents describe it as non-lethal. It’s a euphemism for saying that it doesn’t kill, and the claim is demonstrably false.The most authoritative study on Tasers to date, by the Department of Justice, concluded in May that “a number of individuals have died after exposure to a [Taser] during law enforcement encounters. Some were normal, healthy adults, many were chemically intoxicated or had heart disease or mental illness.” That many killed were on drugs is irrelevant. Being on drugs doesn’t warrant a death sentence. (In a civilized society it wouldn’t even warrant an arrest or a cop’s intervention, but a physician’s). Normal, healthy adults have also been killed. And underlying health issues and mental illness are precisely the sort of underlying issues not apparent in a crisis moment at school.

Let’s also be clear about Tasers’s supposedly “non-lethal” application. Tasers are an instrument of torture. They jab a pair of electrodes into victim’s skin and send a pulse of 50,000 volts (at very low amperage) through the victim’s body. The standard shot is five seconds, causing immense pain and temporary paralysis as the body’s muscles are forced to contract. That’s how Tasers are used to control a victim: they immediately subdue, providing the ultimate shortcut to control. The infliction of pain is just as immediate. There’s nothing humane about Tasers. They’re brutality by extension cord, unless you buy into ridiculous claim cops and Taser lovers throw up when defending Tasers: it’s better than a gunshot. Of course it’s “better,” if your only choice is between temporary paralysis and getting shot. But what sort of barbaric campus world are we living in when the only choices between controlling an out-of-control child are firearms and torture?

Equally unsettling is the notion that Tasers are necessary to protect cops from harm. But since when have cops’ responsibility to protect others from harm—including, most of all, children—been turned into license to protect themselves at others’ expense? At Matanzas, Apperson’s intervention immediately stopped the offending student from harming another, or anyone else. Apperson took the harm on himself. There was no shortcut. But contemporary policing is elevating protection of cops and soldiers to sacred status. There’s nothing wrong with that—unless it happens at the expense of civilians. To serve and protect are mere words, if the protection isn’t universal. There’ll always be exceptions when all rules are out the window and immediate action using whatever means is necessary. Those means are always moment away. We don’t live in an urban wasteland where getting a cop into a school is an odyssey. Nor do we live in a place where those means are ever likely to be necessary. Nevertheless, one of those means is now a school norm. That’s some example we’re teaching our children.

Trevor Tucker, the school board member, said that if a student was out of control beyond school property, it wouldn’t matter if the student was autistic or not: that student could be tased, no questions asked. He saw no difference between that situation and a similar situation at school. But a school is not the outside world. It is an extension, and often an improvement, on a home’s sanctuary from that world, for which our students are being prepared. But this is a county—a state—that routinely allows cops to come onto campus and arrest students, which is no different than breaching the sanctuary of a church to do the same. It’s accepted because we live in a society where cops and uniforms are glamorized, law and order is its own virtue, and control an end in itself. Tasers were a missing piece in the arsenal. Our school board locked and loaded to the rescue.

About 260,000 Taser-like similar weapons have been issued to police in 12,000 police agencies nationwide. They’ve been issued to the military, to prison guards, to animal control officers. But schools aren’t crime-infested neighborhoods or war zones. Students aren’t inmates. They’re not animals. Last week, the school board declared, against evidence, that they might as well be.

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38 Responses for “Tasers and the Flagler County School Board: Feeble Surrender to an Instrument of Torture”

  1. Vendetta says:

    If a child or grandchild or relatives child of mine is ever harmed in a public school by a security personal’s taser or firearm there will be severe payback. Let it be known now ! If you can’t control the situation with your intelligence and hands then get out of the school security business. Children WILL NOT be herded like cattle and tortured if they become unruly in a public school. If this can’t be accomplished then shut down the public schools .

  2. Anonymous says:

    Wow… I’m really surprised how ignorant you people are. If it came down to giving my kid 5 seconds of an electric shock, or physically controlling him with the hands-off a trained Deputy… I think I’d rather go with the Taser. You guys just like to complain about whatever the hot topic is this week. I’m pretty sure any of you would prefer getting tased over getting pepper sprayed or suplexed or whatever need to be done. You people have NO CLUE what world we live in. Wake up.. omg there are so many more issues that Pierre could be wasting his valuable time on. Not the potential of some Houligan taking a 5 second ride with a Taser. If any of you knew what was really going on out there, then you’d be singing a much differnt tune.

  3. IagreewithAnonymous says:

    I heard the Sheriff talk about this a few days ago. He said that all deputies here in the county carry tasers, no matter where they are.

    Now I would ask you this: Why would you expect a deputy sheriff in this country to come to a school to restore order to disarm himself before he walks into that school? If children are acting like criminals, they will be treated like criminals.

    In my view, he shouldn’t be in the school in the first place. Both the parents AND the schools should have the freedom to discipline these kids. IF YOU WILL REMEMBER, most of us grew up that way and there was far less crime then. Good behavior was expected or you got the paddle or weeks in the office, sitting in a chair. Usually the threat was enough.

    It is NOT a Deputy’s job to discipline your children. What next….troops?

  4. rdh says:

    This is another example of the school board with no leadership, no responsibilty and no gumshun to take charge of the school system instead of dumping the job onto the sheriff.. This school board is in it for the money and nothing else.. They will take the easy way out on all their decisions. It’s time you parents get involved with your childrens exposure to this out of control school board system.. Be heard to the board if you can find them. If not they probably went into hiding like the people they are to avoid conflict..

  5. thinkforyourself says:

    Sad to say anonymous but we don’t know if that 5 second shock will result in the death of your child. Deputies in our schools currently carrying a baton, pepper spray and a gun. There hasn’t been an issue with asking or expecting law enforcement to take anything off their belt if called off the road patrol to a more serious incident when back up is needed. LEO are trained to disarm and take down individuals who are not armed. Tasers provide a much easier way of doing that. The taser wouldn’t have prevented the situation at MHS. Watch the video closely. Regardless, of how trained they may be often times they are over used within schools across the country. Teens have died being tased and no they weren’t high on drugs. Authorities have been advised not to use them on young people because of the numerous development issues that could occur. I just hope our SRO’s never have to use them in the schools and prove whether research was wrong or right. I believe we are all missing the larger issue at hand. Why are we even having this conversation in the first place?

  6. happening now says:

    Its almost becoming a status symbal with the younger generation to have law enforcement called or arrest them. Why are our children so angry they hit, steal, bully each other???? It is said because of violent video games, TV. etc. sorry, I don’t buy that. Why are these kids on so many mood-altering drugs, police and tasers in schools to protect them from themselves. Very sad.

  7. global3922 says:

    Deputy’s need to be protected. Parents do not dicipline their kids. The one who do not respect the laws & others will have problems, it’s happened in the past & we know we have kind of monsters in schools. The taser is well approriate.

  8. Jim Guines says:

    I would like to take this opportunity to have the readers of Flaglerlive compare the article written by Pierre above and the editorial that came out in the conservative morning news paper on the same subject of the use of Tasers in the schools. There is no comparison between the two; one is intelligent and humane and the other is harsh and silly. That is why I dropped my subscription and let that monthly amount go to Flaglerlive. That was a good decision and I would recommend that all readers of Flaglerlive do the same.

  9. ilikemytazer says:

    feeble surrender?…

    kids today are violent-and often armed themselves…..get over yourselves and realize this

  10. Abstract Thinking says:

    Best article you’ve ever written, Pierre. However, in this town, the truth won’t set you free. You might eventually find it all but speaking/publishing it comes with a high price.

  11. Sammy Adams says:

    Tasers do not kill, Tasers save lives. A bullet sometimes finds unintended targets, even on the other side of walls. Tasers provide control of the uncontrolable. The best thing about tasers is just their presence normally difuses situations as in “please don’t tase me bro”.

  12. Helene says:

    ilikemytaser: You need to get over yourself and get your head out of tv cop lan, violent video games, or wherever you get the idea you made in your comment. The students at Matanzas High School are NOT violent and are NOT armed. Most of the students there are well-behaved, decent students who are respectful. They are teenagers just like we were and there are occasional fights that break out just like they did in the 50’s, 60’s, 70’s, 80’s, etc. A school is no place for a gun or a taser unless the police have to respond to a LIFE THREATENING event – not a brawl. However, NOW I will fear for my child’s safety since the deputy’s will be carrying tasers.

  13. Helene says:

    Sammy, how about a little lesson in self-defense for these so called law enforcement agents. Maybe they should learn martial arts instead of how to use a taser. Then they could easily take down a troublemaker with one or two swift moves. Just a thought …

  14. Emile says:

    Excellent article, Pierre. If I still had children in the school system, they would be pulled out for home schooling or private/charter school. We’ve forgotten the “serve and protect” part of law enforcement, and we’ve forgotten that our children are just that — children. Or have our schools suddenly become annexes to juvenile hall?

  15. Karolyn says:

    What is wrong with you people. Kids these days are not what them seem. Most are very violent and have no care for authority or respect!!! Parents are so easily fooled and deceived these days that they think they have little angels but really they are not. Kids have no respect and no self control anymore. I think tasers are a good idea because officers and the people that will be in control of them need to protect them selves. So stop thinking it’s such a horrible idea because it’s for their and your childrens protection. Kids are animals these days. Violence and drugs is all they seem to care about.

  16. Helene says:

    I feel really bad for you Karolyn. I don’t know what your experience with teens is but it must be something tragic for you to throw “most” kids into your very cynical view of the younger generation. I wonder if you have teens of your own and have you volunteered or worked with youth. I have. From my experience – chaperoning many a school trip (including a week long DC trip for 8th graders) and volunteering for the last 8 summers at a youth conferences in NC that welcomes 1000 to 1400 teenagers at EACH weekly conference, I can assure you the future is in great hands. Sure, there are a few bad apples in every bunch but there are the same bad apples in the adult world too! In the words of a very powerful youth leader/speaker: “You are the ones we’ve been waiting for”.

  17. w.ryan says:

    Well written!!! Though it pains me to hear what the pro arguments are saying. Are their minds so drunken with episodes of “24”?

  18. Anonymous says:

    Helene… You said that “most students are well behaved” which is true. The taser is not there for “most students” it’s there for the very few who are not well behaved and present a threat to the safety of those who are “well behaved.” Seriously, are you from Mayberry or Pleasantville??
    As for your comment about self-defense or martial arts…
    Omg where do I start??
    Officers are trained in defensive tactics. If someone throws a punch or tries to go after an officer, they are trained to stop the threat… no matter what. If someone throws a punch at an officer, teenager or not, they are going to get dropped… and dropped hard mind you. In no way shape or form is that less barbaric then a taser. Long term, it would be much more painful and dangerous then the minute amount of amperage that runs through their body. I really wish you “Cyber moms” that think you know everything had a single clue about what this world is really like. Some of these kids are armed. Some are seriously dangerous. Some have no remorse and no conscious to speak of. Is it because of violent video games or episodes of 24… honestly I don’t know for sure. But, I am willing to put my money on the fact that it’s probably due to the parents of these menaces… not paying attention, over medicating and just not giving a flying @&$% as to what goes on out there in the real world. 
    Helene… Go down to the Sheriff’s Office… Obtain a ride-along form… and ask the deputy to show you what is really going on out there. Maybe go to Bunnell, in the projects, and see what you think when you see 12 year olds selling coke, or running from the police, or carrying guns for their “cuzin”.  It real out there. I’m out!

  19. Yogi says:

    When I went to school there were no cops. School stunk, but we lived with it during the race riots of the 60’s. Close the schools if you love your children keep them at home and take care of them. They are un constitutional and barbaric. Most of The people in this community are so far gone I wouldn’t want my kids associating with their kids. Let your No be no and your Yes be yes. Now let the crap fly.

  20. Helene says:

    Anonymous: Thanks for the laugh. Yes, I do live in Pleasantville, thank you very much. You really need to get a grip! “Its real out there” – haha. I have been in the ALL the schools here and I can assure you they are not the “projects of Bunnell” (even Bunnell Elementary is pleasant). I do not need to ride with a deputy to the seedier parts of our county to know there is crime and sleeze out there. It just isn’t as bad as you are trying to make people think. The really bad students go to Pathways and the next stop – jail. My main point is, I have put 3 children through this school system (my last one is a senior) and except for some minor bullying in elementary school (that we nipped in the bud post haste), they have had a great education in Flagler County.

    PS: This “cyber” mom who doesn’t have “a single clue of what this world is really like”, was born in Brooklyn, raised an hour out of the city and then lived and worked in Manhattan for many years. My family had bars in and around New York City as well as a major nightclub on “the Bowery” where NYC off cuty cops and Hells Angels worked side by side as bouncers. I could tell you tales that would make little ole Bunnell seem like Mayberry. Compared to that – yes we live in Pleasantville.

  21. w.ryan says:

    Anonymous: A ride along will only show whomever a gllmpse of police work. The reality is being a LEO you need to lighten up and open up to the reality that what you deal with on a daily basis is a concentrated dosage of negativity. You can’t treat a 2nd grader like you would a 7th grader just like you can’t treat a student attending a sensitive location such as a school like you would policing a general area. I’ll not speak on the sociological, economical and political crisis that spawned “The Projects”.

  22. IagreewithAnonymous says:

    Helene: I suggest you sign up for that “ride along” for a taste of nostalgia. It’s there.

    If we were doing our jobs as parents and school administrators, the deputies wouldn’t be necessary. They don’t belong in school.

  23. Elana Lee says:

    While I maintain that I disagree with the use of tasers in schools, I also disagree with the use of police officers on our school campuses. When I worked with Colleen Conklin at FFYC, we did youth surveys and focus groups at many places, one of which was Pathways. Both the male teacher and uniformed deputy (SRO) wanted to be present in the Pathways classroom with us – “just in case”. Their intentions were well meant, no doubt. However, both Colleen and I reassured them that all was well, and indeed it was; we never had a need for any sort of back-up. And these kids were supposed to be the “worst of the worst”. We didn’t ask, but I guess a majority of them were involved in the criminal/juvenile system, some were involved with gangs, another group was pregnant, some of them were homeless, some of them lived with foster parents, a few were over 18 and had aged out of the foster care system. I’m referring strictly to the Pathways classes here. The one thing we heard from those students that they felt was needed more than anything was to have an accessible on-site “coulselor(s)”, someone they could go to that they trusted for advice on family problems, school problems and issues, relationship issues, teacher problems, friend-peer issues, STD questions, someone who would not judge them no matter what they said or asked.

    How much more positive and cost-effective would it be, in short and long term outcomes, if we placed 3 to 5 counselors in the middle and high schools, instead of uniformed, taser-armed officers? One offers instruction, guidance, direction, information and prevention, while the other reacts with instant painful punishment for wrong behavior. What does your RisK Management Accessor say, School Board?

    There is no doubt that the times have changed. Therefore it’s up to genuine leaders to step up to the plate, risk criticism, set politics aside and develop correct solutions to these changed times. Garrison Keeler’s words remain true: “Nothing you do for a child is ever wasted.”

  24. Layla says:

    Good comments here. I think I agree with Elana. None of us wants to see police officers in schools unless there is an emergency. it sends the wrong message.

    My high school guidance counselor made it understood that his door was ALWAYS open. No substitute for good parenting, but a good reminder that these kids needs more than an enforcer and that it works.

  25. YouHaveNoIdea says:

    Helene, I am a student at Matanzas and know very well how bad the other kids are. They put up that gilded layer of niceness, but the real them is much worse. Constant threats, bullying, smoking, fights. It is all sickening.

  26. Lin says:

    I can relate to what you are saying YouHaveNoIdea Even when I was growing up in the City years ago, there was stuff like that going on. It wouldn’t be done so much out in the open but it happened.

    Yes, we need counselors, but a deputy presence in the schools isn’t a wrong message in my opinion — it is like the presence of the old beat cop in my neighborhood in Queens getting to know the dynamics of the neighborhood day after day. Someone familiar that those who may need protection some day can go to — students and employees. The message is that the students & employees will be protected. I may be in the minority to those on the boards, here, but I feel safer knowing they are there and that they have the tools to handle any level of situation. Stuff happens.

  27. w.ryan says:

    YouHaveNoIdea says: This isn’t the first and only high school ever invented. Most,if not all, of us have an idea of what its like. This is why we are taken this stance to take tasers out of the schools . Would it be better to live with the constant threat of a taser or with the possibility of SRO’s zapping a fellow classmate with their taser or would it be best to find alternatives to solve the problem you have stated? These are all possibilities which may result in a fatality. It won’t matter who the aggressor was in any instant.

  28. Flagler Citizen says:

    The tasers will be under strict guidelines so I don’t see what people are getting all pissy about. It’s not like your late, *Taze.* If a situation can be handled without a taser it will. But a deputy shouldn’t have to put himself at risk because a teenager snapped. The school should be a safe environment for everyone, if there was no authoritative figure the students could act out even more. A student shouldn’t be fighting anyway and most parents are mad because they just can’t control their kid. If your kid doesn’t break the rules, they won’t get tased. Pretty simple it seems.

  29. Helene says:

    Elana: Beautiful! I agree with everything you said. Many times all these kids need is someone to talk to, someone who thinks they are important, someone who cares. While a teacher can and often does some of this service to students, they’re hands are full with the responsibilities of teaching. Additional counselors ( not “guidance” counselors for courses, colleges, etc.) who are placed in schools to help monitor the students and have “an open door policy” where a kid can confide in someone or just needs an ear to listen, would be of immense service not only to “troubled” youth, but also for those who just want to talk. There used to be someone like that at FPC about 5-6 years ago. Not sure if anyone replace his role.

    Lin: I also like your comparison of a “beat” cop to a school’s resource officer (deputy). The school is the deputy’s neighborhood and he/she should be familiar with ALL the students. I am not against a police presence in the schools (for security) but I am against tasers.

    Youhavenoidea: I understand what you are saying. That is why I love Elana’s points. You and others in similiar situations need someone at the school who you are comfortable confiding in. So an adult on premise would “have an idea” of what is going on.

    These kinds conversations are prodactive rather than reactive (and negative).



  31. Doug Chozianin says:

    Tasering crazed kids is ok (and usually more forgiving than a 45-caliber bullet in the head) ONLY if the Teacher(s), Principal(s) and Parent(s) that are guilty of fostering this misbehavior are also tazered. (Add the School Board and any staff Psychologist(s) to this list.)

    Frankly, a swift boot in the kid’s behind (with the promise of more to come) is a more effective and proven behavioral correction technique. (Extend this also to the above facilitator list.)

  32. w.ryan says:

    Thank goodness we were all good students!!!

  33. Abstract Thinking says:

    What’s going to happen when it becomes a dare to see who will get tased? No matter the risk or how bad it hurts it’s going to be macho to get tased, so then what?

  34. Nancy N. says:

    All of you who are saying that only kids who are criminals and who shouldn’t be there in the first place need to worry about this are missing one of the central points of this debate: autistic students. As the mother of an autistic elementary student in this district, it greatly concerns me given past history that tasers are being admitted to our school buildings. Managing special needs kids takes special skills and if weapons like tasers are available it will be too easy for officers to resort to violent methods of managing these students as a shortcut.

  35. Patty Jones says:

    It is a sad commentary on the state of affairs when so called responsible adults view all or most children as criminals and dont differentiate between a school…. a place of learning ….and a detention facility … .usually a place intended for incarceration and punishment but even there, not intended for torture and brutality. What is wrong with these people? Why are they so angry and bloodthirsty that they now have to direct their ire at the children?

  36. ilikemytazer says:

    the parents doing the most complaining most likely have trouble making children—

  37. concern citizen says:

    Helen, i must say very well put. However readers i am not understanding why is this being blown into a geographical thing. From my understanding neither kid was from bunnell projects so why would that even be an issue. There are kids with under guidance from all locations of flagler county so why target a certain area that at this time is irrelavant to the issue. Parents the government is not trained to handle our children get them out of the public schools as fast as you can. For the record compare your county to other counties and see just how better off you really are.

  38. A. Cuthbert says:

    “Risk is part of their job description.” All I have to say is wow. Basically your saying that law enforcement is expected to get injured, never mind doing what is right and keeping all involved from injury including suspects and law enforcement. Whatever!!!!

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