Seattle PD Special Report on the M26 Advanced TASER (Pt. 1)


Seattle PD Special Report on The M26 TASER - Part 1

For a PDF version of the report, visit: http://www.cityofseattle.net/police/Publications/Special/M26Taser.PDF


Seattle Police Department (SPD) 

Special Report on Taser Implementation Year 1 

The Seattle Police Department (SPD), has issued a 
report on their implementation and use of the M26 
Taser.

The SPD report shows that the M25 Taser is an 
effective tool for use in temporarily disabling or 
stopping a suspect/attacker.
   
It has the obvious benefit over a firearm, of being 
effective, but less than lethal.

Also, if it was taken away from the user, the chance 
that it then could be used, to seriously injure or 
kill, would be greatly diminished.

In a home use situation, the chance of a child 
accessing the device or one similar to it, and then
seriously injuring or killing another with it, would 
be greatly dimished.  

The device is battery operated.  That and other
considerations/concerns having to do with its 
practicality are addressed in the report.

This is a text version of the report that as of
5/15/03, is available on the web as a PDF file at 
http://www.cityofseattle.net/police/Publications/
Special/M26Taser.PDF 

Only minor formating changes, such as displaying 
footnotes as (1), (2), (3), have been made to the 
body of the report.  

My simple, low cost, low tech, practical and
effective aiming aid, (the P&S Index Finger Rest), 
would be an excellent addition/enhancement to the 
M26 Taser or similar device.  Info on it is on
my site - www.pointshooting.com. 

- - - - - - - - - -
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SPD SPECIAL REPORT  -  May 2002

The M26 Taser

Year One Implementation

In May 2000, the Mayor and City Council asked the 
Seattle Police Department to consider expanding the 
availability of less lethal options for patrol 
officers.  The Department established an internal 
study group, the Force Options Research Group (FORG), 
to examine less lethal alternatives and make 
recommendations of options that might be adopted.  
The FORG provided technical, training, and policy 
expertise.  A Community Workgroup, convened at the 
same time, provided the viewpoint of citizens and 
other stakeholders as they examined less lethal
weapons options and made recommendations concerning 
them.

Both the FORG and the Community Workgroup completed 
their studies in September 2000, forwarding 
strikingly similar recommendations to the Mayor and 
City Council.  The proposals of both groups 
emphasized training, particularly training in dealing 
with mentally ill persons and those in other types of 
crises, as well as acquisition of new less lethal 
devices.  The two less lethal devices that were 
recommended were the M26 Taser and the less lethal 
shotgun with drag stabilized beanbag rounds.

The Department's report identified the numbers of 
less lethal devices and the amount and type of 
training that would be required to ensure that some 
less lethal option could be available across the City, 
across all patrol watches, on a 24x7 basis.  It was 
estimated that this goal could be reached over a two-
year implementation period that would include 
acquisition, testing, and training on new less lethal 
devices and expansion of crisis intervention skills 
training for patrol officers.  The Mayor and City 
Council both supported a special funding allocation
for the Department's Less Lethal Options Program in 
the 2001-2002 biennial budget.  Seeking to expedite 
implementation of the Program, the City Council
provided some of this funding in late 2000 in the 
form of an emergency appropriation.

This report focuses on the Department's progress in 
implementing that portion of the Less Lethal Options 
Program pertaining to the M26 Taser. It begins with 
a description of the device and its role in the 
broader use of force spectrum.  Next, the report 
describes the Department's approach to acquiring, 
testing, training, and deploying the M26 Taser.  Also 
included is a discussion of the Department's field 
experience with the device in the first year of 
implementation.  The Report concludes with some 
reflections on lessons learned in the first year of 
the taser portion of the Department's Less Lethal 
Options Program.

Summary of Key Findings in the Report

- By the end of 2001, the Department had met and 
exceeded its biennial goal of deploying 130 M-26 
Tasers among Patrol officers, with 136 deployed.

- Distribution of tasers is roughly even across all 
four precincts.  In nearly 60% of the 106 incidents, 
the taser officer was among the first responding 
officers to the scene.

- Tasers were used in a wide variety of incidents. 
Calls involving mentally ill/suicidal subjects and 
traffic-related incidents are the types of situations 
in which tasers were most often used.

- Sixty-three taser subjects (nearly 60%) were 
impaired, often severely, by alcohol, drugs, or a 
mental illness or delusion.

- A quarter of the taser subjects were armed, most 
often with knives.  Sixteen of twenty-six (62%) of 
the armed subjects were also impaired, usually by
mental illness.

- Taser subjects were most often males (94%), between 
the ages of 21-40 (67%). About half the subjects were 
Caucasian and another 42% were African American.

- Tasers were used in the dart projectile mode about 
60% of the time; in the stun mode, 27% of the time; 
and both modes were used 12% of the time.

- Verified taser contact was obtained in 86% of the 
incidents.  Where there was verified contact, the 
taser delivered a disabling or partially disabling 
effect 95% of the time.

- In 85% of all of the incidents and in 92% of the 
incidents where contact was verified, the taser was 
credited with controlling the subject or bringing the
situation to a resolution.

- Both officers and subjects reported low rates of 
injury during taser incidents when compared with 
other use of force situations. No injuries were 
directly attributable to the taser device.

The M26 Taser - What is it and what's it for?

Taser characteristics - Tasers have been in use for 
over 20 years by law enforcement agencies.  However, 
earlier versions of the device were widely seen as 
unreliable and not very accurate.  In addition, the 
optimal distance for use was short, about 6 feet. The 
M26 Taser is a patented device manufactured by Taser
International of Scottsdale, AZ. Looking much like an 
officer's service weapon, the M26 Taser is 
laser-sited and uses cartridges attached to the end 
of the barrel.  The cartridges project a pair of 
prongs or darts on copper wires over distances from 
roughly 6 to 21 feet.  The device sends 26 watts of 
electricity at over 50,000 volts over the copper 
wires, with the effect of overriding a target's motor 
and sensory systems.  Without the cartridge, the M26 
Taser can function as a contact stun device.  In 
either mode, the M26 delivers its electrical charge 
in a five-second cycle (which can be repeated), but 
once the cycle ends or is broken, the effects 
immediately disappear.  Despite the use of an 
electrical charge, the M26 Taser has not been found 
to be harmful to persons with pacemakers or having 
other unusual health conditions.

The FORG report recommended acquisition of the M26 
Taser for a variety of reasons. First, with the look 
and feel so much like a service weapon, the M26
appeared to be a device that would be easy for 
officers to learn to use proficiently.  Second, the 
M26 provided a safer deployment range for officers 
(6 to 21 feet) than had been true with earlier tasers, 
where the range was 6 to 9 feet.  This offered the 
potential for disabling a subject at a standoff range 
that would provide better safety and protection for 
officers.  Third, the M26 promised the possibility of 
gaining compliance without resulting injury or 
lasting effects to the subject or officers.  The 
ability to subdue non-compliant subjects with no
harmful effects or risk of permanent injury was an 
especially attractive feature of the device. Finally, 
the M26 was a moderately-priced less lethal option 
that had some useful administrative review features.

Taser purpose and use - The M26 taser is intended to 
provide officers with a force option to help in 
overcoming a subject's combative intent, physical
resistance, and/or assaultive behavior; in disabling 
or subduing persons bent on harming themselves or 
others; or in providing self-defense.  As with all
applications of force, officers using less lethal 
options are expected to use necessary and reasonable 
force to effect a lawful purpose.  "Necessary and
reasonable" uses are defined by the totality of the 
circumstances that confront officers.

In no situation is an officer required to use less 
force than is being threatened by a subject. Moreover, 
officers are cautioned against the use of a less 
lethal option, such as a taser, when confronting 
lethal threats, except when an armed and ready 
officer is available and in place to provide 
protection for officers employing these tools, as 
well as for innocent parties.

In its training materials, the Department provides an 
assessment of less lethal options from a use of force 
perspective.  The M26 Taser, when used as a touch 
stun device, is viewed as a lesser use of force than 
OC spray and on a par with pain compliance techniques 
such as wrist locks and control holds. When used with 
the dart projectiles, the M26 is viewed as a greater 
use of force than pain compliance techniques, but a 
lesser one than punches, kicks, or the use of other
impact weapons. Locating less lethal options on a use 
of force continuum lets officers know how these 
devices compare with other uses of force with which
they are more familiar. Since such assessments cannot 
take into account the circumstances faced by officers 
that may warrant greater or lesser force responses, 
they remain guidelines and do not substitute for the 
professional judgment of officers in individual cases. 
(Attached is the use of force continuum used as a 
training tool by the Seattle Police Department.)

Several caveats concerning the use of less lethal 
options were made explicit in the FORG report.  These 
apply particularly to the M26 taser.  First, the 
report noted that the Department was planning a 
limited deployment of less lethal devices.  The 
planned deployment provided for one taser officer per 
sector squad per watch, or about 20% of overall 
patrol strength.  The practical effect of such a
deployment is that there would remain many instances 
where less lethal options are not available to 
officers called to respond to specific incidents.  As 
a second caveat, the FORG report indicated that the 
availability of less lethal options would not 
necessarily guarantee their use.  Rather it was noted 
that situational dynamics, in particular the timing 
and volatility of an incident, dictate the response 
of officers.  High-risk, rapidly evolving situations, 
for example, do not lend themselves to application of 
a broad range of options, even if some of these 
options happen to be available.  Other factors, such 
as the amount of time an officer has to react to the 
threat, the officer's relative proximity to the 
person posing the threat, the ability to isolate or 
contain the person posing the threat, can also affect 
the decision to deploy a less lethal option. And as 
noted earlier, the capacity to use less lethal 
options safely is dependent upon the availability of
lethal force as protection and backup for the 
officers involved.

A final caveat identified in the FORG report was that 
less lethal options should be clearly understood as 
supplements to - and not substitutes for - deadly 
force. In this regard, less lethal options do not 
constitute "first steps" in some progression of 
responses, nor are officers required to exhaust all 
less lethal options before resorting to deadly force. 
Based on the circumstances confronting them, officers
may still respond with the lethal options available 
to them if the situation warrants a deadly force 
response.

The M26 Taser - Getting Started

Initial Implementation Steps- In order to ensure 
follow-through on the Department's Less Lethal 
Options Program, the FORG was charged with program 
implementation and ongoing study and review, under 
the auspices of the Deputy Chief of Operations.  The 
emergency appropriation provided by the City Council 
permitted acquisition of the first installment of 66 
M26 Tasers in late 2000.  In the last few months of 
the year, the Department took steps to expedite
certification of M-26 taser instructors and 
development of a training curriculum for the device. 
SWAT officers visited and consulted with other 
jurisdictions on their less lethal options training 
classes and on the operational considerations and
guidelines employed in their less lethal programs. 
Based on the information gathered, a 
train-the-trainer program for M26 Taser instructors 
was drafted as was the lesson plan for the four-hour 
training course for taser officers.  Both were 
reviewed and approved by the Training Section and 
Command Staff.

A Provisional Order was issued incorporating the M26 
Taser into the Department's use of force policy (1)
and an interim protocol was established for receipt 
and check-out of tasers and taser cartridges.  In 
addition, the Department worked with the Seattle Fire 
Department to let them know that the taser would be
deployed and that officers would be calling EMTs to 
the scene of deployments to check the condition of 
subjects and to remove taser darts.  The city's 
largest trauma center, Harborview Medical Center, was 
also contacted to make their personnel aware of the 
Department's use of tasers, in case some subjects 
were transported there.  These were among a number of 
recommendations received from other jurisdictions 
that had previously deployed the taser.

As the first tasers began to be used in the field, 
FORG members and taser instructors spoke with the 
officers involved and reviewed each incident to guide
future training efforts. During this same period, the 
FORG developed draft guidelines for receipt and 
handling of tasers and taser supplies, the selection,
training, and supervision of taser officers, and the 
documentation of taser deployments (2).  Once this 
draft was completed and under Department review, the
second installment of 64 tasers was ordered (April 
2001).

The FORG reviewed the distribution of taser officers 
across precincts and watches in order to identify 
where there were gaps in coverage.  The Group also
continued to review the lessons being learned in the 
field by taser users.  These were incorporated into 
the lesson plan for the taser training and 
certification course.  Feedback from the field 
suggested that officer interest in the taser had
only increased since the program was initiated.  By 
August 2001, the Department issued a second Directive 
asking officers to express their interest in 
receiving less lethal options training and deployment, 
and identifying areas where additional coverage was 
needed.  The result of this effort was a roster of 
more than 100 officers seeking less lethal training. 
In light of this level of interest and after a review 
of the Less Lethal Options Program budget, the 
Department decided to acquire a third installment of 
64 tasers.  These were ordered in September 2001.

Taser Officer Training - As the training course was 
being developed in the latter part of 2000, the 
Department began to solicit trainees. Patrol officers 
interested in being trained and assigned a taser were 
directed to notify their precinct commanders by 
December 1st.  The names of these officers were then 
forwarded to Bureau commanders who made 
recommendations to the Deputy Chief of Operations 
charged with oversight of the Less Lethal Options 
Program.  Despite the fact that the M26 was a new 
device, untested by SPD, more than 100 officers
expressed interest in training and deploying it.

By late December 2000, the first training classes 
were held, resulting in the first group of patrol 
officers being deployed with the taser before the end 
of the calendar year. After another series of taser 
training classes was held in January 2001, sixty-six 
officers had been trained on the taser, with 51 of 
the devices deployed by patrol officers.  Some of the 
initial trainees who were not assigned individual 
tasers were Advanced Training and Range officers, who 
were expected to take over the training program at 
some point.  SWAT officers were not individually 
assigned tasers either.  Instead, tasers are located 
in each SWAT vehicle for use by all unit officers 
certified to use them.

As noted above, once the tasers began to be used in 
the field, officers were debriefed by taser 
instructors to identify needed adjustments to the 
training program.  One issue that surfaced early was 
the need to educate other officers about the device, 
how it works, and how a taser officer could best be 
used in various situations.  By March 2001, the 
Advanced Training Section had developed a lesson plan 
and incorporated a segment on taser tactics into the
Officer Street Skills class for all officers and 
sergeants.  The Section also developed a two-hour 
supervisors' class focused on less lethal options. 
The course for taser officers was also revised to 
include more tactics training.  The four-hour taser 
training course that has emerged combines classroom 
instruction (including a written test), drills and 
qualifications, and scenario-based training.

A second round of taser training and certification 
classes was scheduled in November 2001.  When these 
classes were completed, the Department had not only 
met, but had exceeded, its goal of training and 
deploying 130 tasers in the ranks of first-response 
patrol officers.

Taser distribution - The Department has been very 
deliberate in its deployment of the M26 taser. 
Implementation has progressed in stages to ensure 
that training efforts would be refreshed by field 
experience and that the Department would continue to 
build on its base of knowledge and expertise. The
Department's Less Lethal Options Program was designed 
to put at least one less lethal option in the hands 
of about 50% of patrol officers through a combination 
of expanded CIT certification, taser deployment, and 
less lethal shotgun deployment.  From the beginning, 
then, the priority for taser distribution was to
provide officers involved in first level response 
with this less lethal alternative.  However, as 
confidence in and experience with the taser grew, 
others in the Department began to express interest in 
deploying with the device.  Part of the decision to 
acquire a third installment of the tasers was to 
explore and support its deployment among such units.

The initial installment of 66 tasers was issued to 
officers who went through the first set of training 
courses. Fifty-one of the devices were distributed to 
officers working the street, eight were assigned to 
SWAT vehicles, five were used as trades or swap-outs 
because of malfunction or damage in training or 
initial use, and two were retained in Evidence for 
future trades in the event of any field problems.  By 
the time of the second round of training classes, the 
Department had received the second and third taser 
installments.  It had also received requests for 
training and certification from a number of specialty 
unit personnel and had developed guidelines to cover 
taser deployment by these units.

After the second round of taser training classes, the 
Department had issued a total of 158 tasers. Of these, 
136 are deployed in patrol units, 14 in specialty
units (including gangs, DUI, K-9, CIT), and 8 in SWAT 
vehicles.  Another 20-25 officers have been trained 
and certified on the taser but have not been issued a
device.  These include training instructors and 
supervisory personnel.  Among the four precincts, 
tasers are distributed as follows:

- West - 45 tasers, including four in the ACT team
- North - 35 tasers, including four in the ACT team
- South - 31 tasers, including two in the ACT team
- East - 25 tasers, including two in the ACT team

After retaining a few tasers in Evidence for trades 
or swap-outs, the Department now has about thirty 
more to distribute.  Once again, the FORG is looking 
at coverage gaps in patrol units and evaluating the 
experience of speciality units in making 
recommendations for further taser deployments.

Operational Issues - In this first year of 
implementation, the Department has found that several 
operational issues are significant in ensuring the 
performance and reliability of the M-26 Taser. First, 
non-taser officers must understand how the taser 
operates.  Officers need to know that a taser "hit" 
only lasts for a five second cycle unless reapplied. 
Also, it is possible for the taser effect to transfer
to someone touching the subject, including a police 
officer.  For this reason, taser officers need 
continually to make their peers aware when they plan 
to deploy the device so that other officers can avoid 
being affected by it.

A second issue pertains to the taser's power source, 
the batteries that are crucial to its performance. 
These must be checked regularly to ensure that the 
device will deliver a full charge when applied. It is 
recommended that officers "spark" their tasers at the 
beginning of each shift to determine if the battery is 
working and at full strength.  Battery use was much 
higher in the first year than anticipated.  In the 
second year, the Department will be shifting to a 
rechargeable battery that is more expensive initially, 
but is less expensive in the long run.  It is also 
more reliable and operates at a higher level of 
effectiveness in the field.

A final operational issue concerns the officer's 
ability to make "real time" assessment of the taser's 
effects and respond accordingly.  Proficiency in 
making such assessments comes with time and 
experience in using the device and as officers have 
used the taser more, they have gained considerable
expertise.  Field experience has taught that in 
general (there are exceptions) to obtain the full 
effect of the device, both darts must hit the subject, 
the copper wires cannot be damaged or dislodged, and 
heavy clothes, if not completely penetrated, must be 
near the subject's body.  When these conditions are 
not met, the expected results may not be obtained. 
This means that taser officers may need to reapply 
the device either with a new cartridge or in the stun 
mode.  Field conditions may not always make 
reapplication possible, but as the year progressed, 
officers demonstrated the confidence and capacity to 
reassess the situations they were confronting and 
redeploy their tasers as necessary.

Click here for the second part of the SPD report.

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