You can’t engage in a discussion about TASER — whether among law enforcement professionals or with individuals who are not in police work — without someone raising the specter of “overuse.” Many cases pointed out to be examples of this so-called overuse have been ruled to be reasonable. In spite of this detractors will argue the use of the TASER was “not necessary.”
Before going any further let’s make something clear. Any use of force that can be deemed reasonable is defensible.
Here can be found the answer to the question, “Why is TASER used so often?”
What Causes Repetitive Use of a Tool?
If officers consider everything from dialog to deadly force as a tool for use on the street, and they assess themselves they will discover they have a tendency to rely heavily on any tool when they can say, “I am:
1.) good at it.”
2.) confident with it.”
3.) certain it will work in a given situation.”
4.) certain it will minimize injuries to us.”
5.) certain it will minimize injuries to the suspects.”
If an agency head feels their officers are “over-using” the TASER it is simple enough to check it out. However, any assessment should not be done by merely looking at numbers. This needs to be done by highly-trained personnel reading reports and viewing officer incident recordings on a case-by-case basis. You are likely to discover that your officers may be using the TASER more often than some people might want them to, but the individual uses will in nearly all — if not all — cases, be defensible.
This perception of “overuse,” comes partly from a generation of officers, who managed to do police work without the TASER, who are working with a generation of officers who have never known police work without it. That leaves older officers asking, “Why do you resort to the TASER so often?” while younger officers answer this question with a question of their own, “Why not?”
What is the Answer?
Agency administrators need to be cautious of coming to the conclusion there is an “overuse” of any force option, when each use of that option has been found defensible. This kind of hyper-critique brings with it a lack of confidence on the street, which can end in tragically unacceptable conclusions of calls.
If it is less use of the TASER you are after, the solution is simply is to give your officers tools that they are as confident with as the TASER to use in situations, where physical control called for. That means enhance your empty hand control training. An officer will use empty hand control options if they have a situation where physical control is called for if they can say, “I am...
1.) good at it.”
2.) confident with it.”
3.) certain they will work in this situation.”
4.) certain they will minimize injuries to me.”
5.) certain they will minimize injuries to the suspect.”
Departments could require that every update of TASER training also includes an update of empty hand techniques — including transition exercises back and forth between each. Officers in this training must maintain an open mind. If an officer has an attitude “Why do I need this? I’m just going to light em’ up anyway,” the training may be wasted on them.
Eventually, these control techniques will become necessary even after the use of the TASER. The Smith brothers at TASER International, as forward thinking as they are, still have not developed a unit that is 100 percent effective in all circumstances. Also the last time anyone checked, the TASER still does not hand cuff the suspect for you.
Overuse or Use?
Train your people so that all your officers and supervisors on your department are confident in their capabilities with all the tools available and understand not only how to properly apply appropriate levels of force, but when each option is justified. When this level of expertise is obtained and maintained you will perceive much less “overuse,” of the TASER and be better able to explain the justification when it is used.
More than 16,000 law enforcement agencies have issued the TASER to their officers in spite of a negative ill-informed blitz by the usual suspects — the national media and the ACLU — who now have been joined by Amnesty International. In spite of these detractors you will continue to hear spark tests at the beginning of each shift for this reason. The numbers show that “use” of this valuable tool insures officer and suspect injuries as well as litigation plummet in the first year for nearly every agency after their initial deployment of TASER.
The Smith brothers are correct when they say, “We take the most dangerous of situations and we make them safer.”
Now ask yourself honestly, “Do we overuse TASER, or just use it?”