By Guest Columnist Todd Brown
The use of Taser® conducted energy weapons in law enforcement has increased dramatically over the last few years. The less-lethal weapons have proven effective in a variety of situations and their use has been credited with saving many lives; in many cases if the Taser devices weren't effective the only alternative left to the officer would have been lethal force. To say that the statistics estimating saved lives, reductions in injuries and cost savings to agencies resulting from Taser use is impressive would be a gross understatement.
Thousands of law enforcement agencies have either begun Taser technology deployment or have plans to deploy Taser devices with their officers in the very near future. This, of course, necessitates that officers be trained in the operation and application of Taser weapons. The question becomes: How do agencies provide adequate initial and recurrent training on the Taser system to its officers?” The answer lies in the scenario based training that an agency is most likely already providing its officers.
The Denver Police Department recently received negative publicity when one of its officers shot a knife-wielding subject instead of using a Taser weapon, which was present at the scene. More recently than that, the ACLU criticized the Denver PD’s excessive use of the Taser weapons. These “damned if you do and damned if you don’t” messages may leave many officers confused about when to deploy and use the Taser system on their belts, and more importantly, are very likely to result in hesitation and an escalation of events.
All officers who carry Taser devices need to practice with the less-lethal weapons on a regular basis, as well as demonstrate they understand their agency’s policies and procedures relating to its use - the officer must be able to show the instructor where the Taser is appropriate, and equally important, where not appropriate. In turn, instructors must document that this type of training was received and that the officer demonstrated the appropriate knowledge of the Taser system and its use. The simulated environment provides the most cost-effective means to achieve this goal.
Sgt. Richard Gentry, supervisor of the Miami Police Department Officer Survival Detail, recently stated, “During 2003, the Miami Police Department made history with not having one (1) police involved shooting, which is credited to the training and the less-than lethal weapons we have, such as our OC and Taser weapon. We purchased two (2) laser Taser weapons that are part of the Range 3000 XP4 Use of Force Simulator. This addition to our training has been nothing less than a success.”
Before running to any company that produces simulation systems and spending your entire training budget on Taser systems modified to work with your simulators, there are three questions that need to be asked:
- How closely does the modified Taser weapon mimic the operation of the actual model of Taser system that your agency uses?
- What is the initial cost of the modified Taser device vs. the cost of training regularly with actual Taser weapons?
- What is the potential cost of providing officers with just the minimum training recommended by the manufacturer?
In addition, the following 10 guidelines should also be considered:
1. The Taser system that is used by officers in simulation training should have the look, feel and functionality of the actual Taser model that is being deployed in the field by your agency.
For example, modified Taser devices should include two lasers at the same 8-degree spread of actual Taser probes. Without this spread, accuracy cannot be measured when the trainee fires the Taser weapon on the simulation system.
2. Modified Taser devices and field-deployed Taser weapons should function on the same power source - enabling your agency to use batteries already in inventory to power both Taser devices.
3. The simulation system should require that both of the infrared (IR) lasers in the modified Taser device hit within the target zone drawn around the subject before the system branches to the subject reacting to a hit from the Taser weapon. This requirement mimics a real Taser weapon in that if only one probe hits the target, the circuit is not completed and the Taser device is ineffective.
4. If your agency employs stricter target areas than those recommended by the Taser manufacturer, then the simulation system also must allow you to change these target areas to accurately reflect your agency’s Taser weapon deployment regulations.
5. The system must allow for appropriate branching if the trainee misses with the modified Taser device. In other words, the trainee should be required to reload and re-engage the subject with the Taser weapon, which means that the modified Taser system should have a minimum of two cartridges for use on the simulation system.
6. The modified Taser device should behave like an actual Taser weapon in another respect as well. For instance, if the subject in the scenario is prone, the modified Taser device and the simulation system must require that the student rotate the Taser weapon 90 degrees in order to get a good hit (“grip towards the feet”). Since this is required in a real world application of the Taser weapon against a prone subject, the Taser device used in simulation must behave in the same way.
7. Modified Taser devices must be cost effective. Law enforcement agencies around the nation are all grappling with limited budgets and trainers must be able to show that they can do more training for less money. While it is important to always follow the manufactures guidelines on the number of live cartridges that should be fired by an officer, the expense of these cartridges may limit any additional training that the officer could receive. Additional training results in lower liability; this has been proven repeatedly.
8. The modified Taser device and the simulation system must provide regular training with realistic scenarios that employ a variety of force options, including the Taser weapon. The scenarios cannot be simple “shoot/don’t shoot” as they relate to the Taser system as these scenarios may give officers the false belief that the Taser technology is the correct force option for all encounters. The scenarios must also allow for other training objectives, as they relate to the Taser device, to be accomplished. Reloading, transitions to and from the Taser weapon and approach are just a few examples.
9. The realism of the modified Taser device is useless if it cumbersome or costly to use. For example, the modified Taser system as well as the extra cartridges should fit into the officers’ actual Taser holster and cartridge carrier on their utility/equipment belt. This requires the trainee to draw, deploy and, if necessary, transition from the Taser weapon to another use of force option.
10. The modified Taser device should come with more than one (modified laser) cartridge to allow for reloads during the scenario. The possibility of missing a moving target with at least one probe is very real. Therefore, the student must have the ability to reload the modified Taser system if necessary.
When these conditions are met, the officer receives regular and effective training on the use of the Taser weapon at a substantially reduced cost. For example, the Houston, TX PD has approximately 5,000 officers. The cost for a real Taser weapon cartridge is approximately $15.00. This means it would cost approximately $150,000.00 per year for each Houston PD officer to perform the recommended actual Taser weapon cartridge firings each year (that is a cost of more than six patrol cars!). The cost of actual Taser training would make it nearly impossible for officers to supplement their training by firing the Taser weapons in any repeated training environment.
However, if trainers equip their simulation system with a modified Taser device, these officers could continue to train with the Taser weapon in a realistic environment (assuming the above conditions have been met).
Since officers will be firing these modified Taser devices in judgmental use-of-force scenarios, trainers can document that their trainees have a clear understanding of the agency’s policy relating to Taser weapon deployment. And, equally important, that they can deploy the Taser system against a life size, realistic and moving target in real time.
Recurrent or recertification training could also be performed on the simulator resulting in an even greater cost saving for the agency. For example, Taser International, Inc. has made its User Certification course available on the Range 3000 XP4 simulation system, complete with lecture, testing and practical exercises. It should be clear to all trainers that without continuous, recurrent and recertification training, your agency may open itself up to lawsuits based on the failure to adequately train its officers. With Taser technology use becoming more and more prevalent, liability issues are sure to follow.
Stated simply, if your agency carries a Taser energy weapon on the street, trainers should have the Taser system in their simulation environment as well. Failure to offer this as an option in simulation training may result in adverse training for your officers.
New equipment, no matter how effective, is useless unless the operator completely understands its function, application, and the related procedures and policies. Simulation training with the Taser devices can effectively educate officers in all of these areas and will likely result in officers using the Taser weapon in the most tactically effective, cost-effective manner in order to protect citizens, officers and suspects.
Calif: Weekend death revives Taser dispute
Texas medical examiner: Taser deaths may have drug tie
About the Author
Todd Brown has more than ten years of experience in training federal, state and municipal law enforcement agencies on judgmental use of force in simulated environments as well as in live fire environments. Brown has also trained agencies in Thailand, Hong Kong, Taiwan, and several agencies in Europe. He holds instructor ratings for various use of force applications such as Baton, Firearm, Chemical Agents, Taser, etc. Brown is a member of the National Tactical Officers Association, the International Association of Law Enforcement Firearms Instructors, the American Society of Law Enforcement Trainers, as well as on the technical advisory board of the Force Science Research Center. Brown is the Chief Trainer for IES Interactive Training, manufacturers of the MILO Training & Presentation System. Brown can be reached by e-mail.