Tasers at UCLA

No, I don’t know anything. But it doesn’t look good.

No, I don’t know anything more than you do about the tasering incident at UCLA. But so far, I’m not happy.

* The account in the Daily Bruin is disturbing. Apparently the student was already leaving the library under his own power when he got tased.

* The video is appalling.

* The student’s name, Mostafa Tabatabainejad, makes it worse.

* I can’t think of any justification for using a taser on someone who doesn’t pose a physical threat, just as a way of making him go along with the police after he has gone limp. The obvious inference is that the student was being summarily punished for “contempt of cop;” I would have expected better of the UCLA PD, which is a pretty good outfit.

* The reported threat to taser a bystander for demanding an officer’s name and badge number would, if true, violate the Federal civil rights laws.

* The statement by Norm Abrams, the acting Chancellor, is pretty bad. It properly says that security matters, and it properly counsels against a rush to judgment. But it fails to say that UCLA expects its police to use only the necessary minimum of force, or that it was regrettable that a student who had every right to be in the library was roughed up simply because he’d forgotten his ID. Abrams, a law professor in real life, is, by reputation and from my contact with him, fair-minded and level-headed; it’s possible he was ill-served by his PR staff.

* On the other hand, Abrams’s statement does not express confidence that the cops acted properly, or offer any excuse for their apparent misconduct.

* There is, at last, good news. The University has hired Merrick Bobb, a veteran investigator of police misconduct, to figure out what went on. In effect this acknowledges that there are serious questions and that the UCLA PD can’t be entrusted with answering them. In any case, Bobb is a straight shooter, with no incentive to go easy on the UCLA cops if they behaved as badly as they appear to have behaved.

If I know more, I’ll post it.

Author: Mark Kleiman

Professor of Public Policy at the NYU Marron Institute for Urban Management and editor of the Journal of Drug Policy Analysis. Teaches about the methods of policy analysis about drug abuse control and crime control policy, working out the implications of two principles: that swift and certain sanctions don't have to be severe to be effective, and that well-designed threats usually don't have to be carried out. Books: Drugs and Drug Policy: What Everyone Needs to Know (with Jonathan Caulkins and Angela Hawken) When Brute Force Fails: How to Have Less Crime and Less Punishment (Princeton, 2009; named one of the "books of the year" by The Economist Against Excess: Drug Policy for Results (Basic, 1993) Marijuana: Costs of Abuse, Costs of Control (Greenwood, 1989) UCLA Homepage Curriculum Vitae Contact: Markarkleiman-at-gmail.com

20 thoughts on “Tasers at UCLA”

  1. While I'm not defending what may have indeed been excessive force, there are accounts that this student was causing trouble. The question becomes – given the situation, what was the proper way to difuse the situation. Tasers strike me as an overreaction to a tough situation.

  2. Helpful commentary, Mark.
    Perhaps the student was being difficult, pgl. It happens–but tasers? Unless he was physically thrteatening or abusive, it's excessive–way excessive–force.

  3. Agreed, the video is consistent with a student looking for an argument. Obviously, given what appears to have happened, tasers are an absurd reaction; once he was on the ground they are close to a criminal reaction.
    My prejudice is generally with those trying to maintain order and against instigators, but there has been a shift in the last 5 years that scares me; more and more aggressive action against anyone who challenges authority (police officers, airport security, stewardesses). It appears that many of these people have decided that that there will be no consequences if they react harshly toward anyone who challenges them.

  4. There are no serious questions. There is a videotape of the incident. The student was tasered when he was on the ground. There is nothing to "investigate." The officers involved need to be cashiered immediately and criminal charges should be brought.

  5. My opinion of the event is that while a case may somehow be made for the first taser use, there is no excuse for any of the subsequent uses. Just to be overly clear I am not saying any case has been made for the first use, just that knowing what we know, I am not willing to rule it out. Be that as it may, I am happy the UCLA has hired an outside investigator and am interested in a full account of the events. Interested persons should also read into what has happened in Houston involving horses and peaceful protesters.

  6. "The student's name, Mostafa Tabatabainejad, makes it worse."
    Because, of course, the more sylables in your name, the more improper it is to tase you. Right? High voltage doesn't hurt people named Jones or Smith.

  7. The name means that there's the question of racism. Sure a Jones or Smith would suffer. The problem is that there's now the question if they would have been treated as poorly. If you can't see that, you must have a lot to learn about how the world works.

  8. This is so odd. What are the police thinking? A pissed off student in a computer labs at 3 am are a run of the mill phenomena that should cause not police any problems.
    As to Tabatabainejad being a minority, it was my impression, not being very familiar with LA, that the Iranian community was pretty well off and politically effective, so this isn't the sort of minority member you'd expect police to pick on.

  9. I find police brutality really disturbing, and I am sick of the equivocations about "well, on the one hand the kid was acting up…" If police can't handle kids being insolent, they have no business on a college campus, or in the force at all. A taser is a weapon, and should only be used as a last resort. People die from getting tasered every year.
    And it is even more outrageous that the video clearly shows the police threatening to taser bystanders for the heinous crime of asking for a cop's badge number! Heads had damn well better roll over this.

  10. "The name means that there's the question of racism."
    One of the cops is Asian, and one is black. If it had been a white kid, would there be a question of racism?

  11. Let me see. Perhaps Mr. Tabatabainejad had some ID, if not his student ID (not stated). Maybe the police could have been provided a means to check his student status (such as a computer list somewhere). In such a case, you have a civilized solution to a "rule violation". One might also ask, why are IDs checked only after 11 PM? In what way is security improved versus, let's say, checking them on entry? Is this a convenient method of keeping the homeless out of the library? How many IDs were checked before Mr. Tabatabainejad was approached (also not stated)?
    Regardless, it seems UCLA has become another prison outpost where, perhaps arbitrary, rules are made in the name of security. Civilized procedures for solving problems are apparently neglected to the benefit of robotic enforcement. The rush to taser amplifies some underlying problems, but it is an extreme which comes with a robust emphasis on enforcement.

  12. It is clearly "contempt of cop", and no, we don't need an investigation to see this. Let's assume the worst about the student– he was in the library, he hadn't shown his ID which he was required to show, and he was refusing to leave. (Not all these things are necessarily true, but let's assume them.) So the justification for tasering him is exactly what?
    A taser is a very good tool for certain situations, where you have (for instance) a person suspected of a violent crime who is trying to escape, or a person who is creating an imminent danger to the safety of others. It's much better, all things considered, than a service revolver in many situations.
    But it is not an all-purpose device to subdue anyone who isn't cooperating with the police. There wasn't any pressing need to get this guy out of the library as fast as possible. Electrocution is not the penalty for disobeying the police.
    Thankfully, this was videotaped. You can see clearly from the response of both the police and the administration, that if it hadn't been, the UCLA cops would have covered it up, and received the administration's full support. Instead, the cops are very likely to be socked with a huge damages award, and the plaintiff may be able to prove that the university is at fault as well (there is some indication that university policy permits "pain compliance" (i.e., tasering) without sufficient safeguards against abuse). And if the student body continues its protest, perhaps they can force the police department to fire the officers. In an ideal world, the acting Chancellor would be forced to resign and would not be able to obtain another position in academia as well. The Chancellor's constituency is the student body, not the university police department.

  13. Treacher: One of the cops is Asian, and one is black. If it had been a white kid, would there be a question of racism?
    A: No.

  14. "One of the cops is Asian, and one is black."
    This is so irrelevant, you show your stupidity by bringing it up, Mr. Treacher.
    First, how many of the cops were Iranian?
    Second, do you have information that groups of cops that include asian and black cops aren't racist against people of different races?
    Third, neither of the first two matter. Read the story. The racism comes from the fact that the campus security, not the LAPD, singled out the sole middle eastern male in the library for a 'random id check'. He, while sitting logged into a computer using his account and password that are only available to students, told them he would be happy to comply with their request as soon as they asked other, non-colored students for id as well during this random check so that he could be sure that he wasn't being 'racially profiled'. Rather than do this, campus police, who knew that he was a student because they regularly stopped him and asked for his id, called the LAPD and told them they had a potential terrorist situation with an unknown person who was refusing to identify himself. The police mobilized all available units and came in, guns drawn looking for trouble.
    "There's your fucking racism. There's your fucking abuse of power.", Mr. Treacher.

  15. New details here (http://www.laist.com/archives/2006/11/20/taserhappy_cops_history_was_one_reason_for_tasers_at_ucla.php) (copied below). Some of the details seem to contradict Mark's claim that UCLA PD is a "pretty good outfit." Bad apples, don't you know.
    —-
    The UCLA police department identified the officer caught electrifying the student who did not produce his college ID card as Terrence Duren, an 18-year veteran of the UCPD.
    Duren hasn't had the smoothest career in law enforcement. He came to Westwood after being fired from the infamous Long Beach PD. A few years after being hired by UCLA he was accused of using his nightstick to choke a fratboy and the university asked the UCPD to fire Duren, but he was only given a three month suspension.
    In late 2003 Duren shot a homeless man, Willie Davis Frazier, Jr., in a Kerckhoff Hall bathroom. Frazier, who attempted at first to shun lawyers and represent himself, was imbalanced enough to spend time in mental institution as the court tried to figure out if he was fit to stand trial.
    During a 2004 preliminary hearing in which Duren testified against Frazier, the officer carried a Machiavelli book into court, "The Prince", which argues that the ends justifies the means. "Did you know that this was Tupac's favorite book?" he asked.
    Less than a year after Duren shot Frazier, UCLA decided to invest $22,000 in tasers, according to the Daily Bruin.
    And now, ironically it's Duren who is being accused of abusing the taser.
    "If someone is resisting, sometimes it's not going to look pretty taking someone into custody," he told the LA Times today. "If you have to use some force, it's not going to look pretty. That's the nature of this job."

  16. Alkali,
    He was tased not to keep him down, but to get him to stand up. He fell to the ground "in protest", and they warned him several times that they would tase him, if he did not stand up. Eventually, they did tase. I do think that the use of a taser is a bit extreme, but, police procedure (and our litigious society) may provide an explanation.
    This is one for Prof Kleiman — I've heard that sometimes cops use tasers BEFORE someone gets too out of hand in order to force them to acquiesce, especially when being carried out of a building. It's because arrestees (is that a word?) thrash around, sometimes hitting heads and breaking limbs and it only results in a lawsuit later. Is that true?
    Another point (though again not justifying the use of a taser) — at Powell, the doors lock at 10pm, and anyone new that arrives must show BruinCard (school ID). For the people already inside, ID checks are done. There is rampant property theft, and there have also been sexual assaults on campus and in Westwood, where attackers have been suspected of trailing a suspect from the library. Keeping a watchful eye on who is in the library or computer lab is a very, very good thing.
    This student was asked FIVE times to leave after not producing ID, was belligerent, and was extremely difficult. Then he fell to the ground in protest, started babbling about the patriot act… From the perspective of UCPD, he seemed a bit nuts. And lacking ID, they did not know that he actually was an enrolled student. Carrying him out might WAS justified, though they could have spared the taser.
    And one last thing, he was NOT the only Iranian there that night, and he was NOT the only one asked for his ID.
    P.S. Dr. K, are you teaching Crime in the Spring?

  17. So "rampant property theft" justifies electrocuting anyone who doesn't move when the campus police tells them to? The fact that there are sexual assaults on campus justifies electrocuting someone on the ground in front of a whole bunch of people in a library, where there is no conceivable scenario where a sexual assault could take place?
    He disobeyed the cop– over a VERY minor matter, as NOTHING bad was going to happen because this guy was in allegedly in a non-public area of the library, the cop wanted to show him who was boss, so he electrocuted him. And some anonymous people will defend police brutality in any situation.

  18. There was footage on one of the major morning news shows of a woman in custody being tasered because she was verbally abusive to the officers.
    One officer was fired as a result of the incident. But the point is that many police officers view using a taser as a legitimate response to verbal abuse. A lot of people believe that the police are within their rights and that you deserve what you get if you insult them.
    This is wrong on so many levels that it staggers the imagination.

  19. Sorry for a double post, but I'd like to respond to another post.
    Someone said the guy was tased to get him to stand up. If you get hit with a taser, you can't stand up. It says so in their literature. The purpose of the device is to subdue someone. Hitting someone with a taser and telling them to move along is giving them a command they cannot obey, thus justifying another taser hit.
    Some folks just want everyone to bow before authority.

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