By Richard B. Weinblatt
There appears to be no hot button topic out there for law enforcement administrators and trainers more than that of the Taser. As evidenced by the many national and local media stories focusing on law enforcement’s use of the Taser (some featuring yours truly), the application of the Taser has been a lightning rod for controversy.
Author Richard Weinblatt (right) demonstrates proper Taser techniques.
This Weinblatt’s Tips column is geared to give law enforcers ten tips for Taser deployment that isn’t usually covered by instructors of electric control devices or dart firing stun guns (as Tasers and Stingers, the other smaller market share brand, are referred to generically). As an instructor of the dart firing stun guns and media commentator on the topic, here are some of issues that come back to haunt officers after the use the device. The first couple has a lot to them.
- Have a Plan A and a Plan B. Number one is a biggie in my mind. A common problem that the public seizes on is the repeated application of the Taser. As a pepper spray instructor, I have preached the same mantra as for the Taser. If Plan A doesn’t work, go to Plan B. I ask the students in the police academy I manage the following question: “If you hit your head against the door and it doesn’t open, do you keep hitting your head against that door?” The answer, of course, is no. You have to go with another plan.
If deployment of the Taser does not work, you go to another option located on the use of force matix or continuum as appropriate (as outlined in your respective state’s statutes and case precedents and agency’s policies). Other options include: talking/verbal commands (which you should be doing all along anyway); pepper spray; escorts, takedowns, etc. There have been instances where officers have had a failure in the expected result from Taser deployment. Those issues have run the gamut from clothing disconnect to defective battery/power.
The police officer in the recent and infamous Warren, OH Police Taser video has contended that he repeatedly Tasered the drunk female suspect because she did not comply with his commands. It was reported that he said the repeated applications were due to the Taser malfunctioning. We have to wait for the results of the investigation, but it would appear that this was a case where a couple of Taser ineffective activations would show that another tactic needed to be initiated.
- Perceive the Threat and Act. I tell the people I train that you need to be observant and actually perceive threats that you run into as police officers or deputy sheriffs and —here’s the hard part — act decisively. Many folks today entering into the law enforcement profession are hesitant to act for a variety of reasons.
Once you’ve determined that you have the legal and tactical basis to make your move, you need to do so quickly and without reservation. Your hand has been tipped and the suspect can at the very least drag the event out (increasing the chances that someone could be hurt) or at worst kill you or someone else. That appears to be the problem with the University of Florida Andrew Meyer Taser video situation. The event organizers, Accent, had turned off Meyers’ microphone and he was no longer welcome at the event as he became disruptive. He had infringed on the rights of others to speak. The University of Florida campus police officers were just escorting him out when he broke from them and became even more agitated. That clearly is a Level Four Active Physical Resistance level under Florida use of force continuum and the officers were more than justified to physically push him out the door and use the lower level pain compliance only drive stun mode at the lower Level Three Passive Physical position. They did not shoot him with the Taser as I have been in training. They were actually a level below where they could have been and exercised a lot of restraint.
Now here’s the problem with the UF incident. The officers did not, as some have contended, use too much force. If anything, they used too little force. Meyer became an even larger threat to the officers and the crowd as the incident dragged on.They should have made a decisive decision to ground and control him immediately once he ignored their repeated verbal commands and pulled away.
- Point out the Red Dot. On the streets we are finding that people will often give up when they see the red laser dot on their chest from the Taser. As I have said many times, the best fight for law enforcement to be in is the one that does not happen. Officers should, where appropriate (we don’t always have the luxury of a few seconds), point out to the suspect the presence of the red dot. The impact of looking down and seeing that has made many suspects submit to the officer’s orders.
- Fully Charge the Taser. It seems simple, but many officers (usually the same ones that don’t clean their gun) do not charge their Taser as they should. If you are in doubt, get with your agency’s trainer and read the Taser policy again.
- Conduct Spark Test. As the manufacturer recommends, conduct a spark test with your Taser before every shift. Most officers like to test out their lights and siren prior to going in-service and the Taser is the same concept. You want to be sure that the vital tool you use works for you when you need it. Remember, all of the information on when the Taser is activated is downloadable by your supervisors. Many agencies do this on an annual basis during their issued equipment inventory.
- Do Not Taser Your Friends and Family. The Taser is not meant be a friends and family plan toy. Many officers have shown bad judgment by Tasering their friends and family members. I’m sure that you’ve seen these types of incidents on the 6:00 news. Young officers in particular seemed to be begged by their similarly immature friends at parties and Tase them. As stated before, the Taser stores each time it is activated and that information is available to the employing agency. Officers have been fired by their agency for misusing the Taser.
- No Taser Cartridges in Your Pocket. Do not put the Taser cartridge in your pocket. Make sure that you store extra Taser cartridges on your belt or on the Taser holster itself. Static electricity in your pocket can activate the cartridge sending two number eight straight fish hooks and some attention getting voltage to a place that you wouldn’t want it.
- Watch Falling Issues. According to the recent Wake Forest University study, 99.7% of studied Taser incidents were safe. The remainder was described as injuries due to falls. Training has minimized those types of injuries that used to occur more frequently. Generally, it is not a good idea to shoot people with a Taser who are rooftops or who are running downstairs. It may be prudent to think of deployments in those instances (due to the higher likelihood of injury) as sparked by a even higher level of threat.
- Be Careful of the Innocent Ones. Just like with a firearm, we need to be careful when deploy the Taser when innocent bystanders are in the field of fire. Related to that, and tied in to tip number eight, is to be careful of how the suspect’s post-Taser deployment fall might injure the innocent one.The much publicized incident that comes to mind is the video of the Houston Police officer who was working a hospital off-duty job and Tasered a father attempting to leave the hospital with his baby. Even though the elevators door had been locked and disabled by security, the man was Tasered taking the child with him crashing into the floor.
- Don’t Over-Rely on Taser. Much as when pepper spray came on the scene, law enforcement officers viewed it as the answer to all situations. Pepper spray was not and Taser isn’t either. While Taser is a wonderful tool and has many advantages over pepper spray (Taser does not have a decontamination period and it won’t get into ventilation systems during an indoor deployment like pepper spray will), it is not the answer to every incident.The Taser is a terrific addition to the law enforcement belt. This technological innovation is certainly preferable over the old methods that involved dislocated shoulders and broken arms on suspects.
As verified by the Wake Forest team of researchers, the vast majority of people (including myself) gets up and is uninjured after being Tasered. That is different from the blunt force trauma of the old batons and just brute force of pre-Taser policing. Just remember, it is one tool of many (including your brain, ears, and mouth) that is available to the modern law enforcement professional.