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Wash. deputy accidently shoots man, meant to grab TASER with P1 commentary

Comments from PoliceOne Head Trainer Dave Smith:

Recently, a fourth subject was shot by an officer who thought she had grabbed her Taser but instead sent a bullet downrange. (See story below) This is predictable - many agencies are placing Tasers too close to the officers' lethal weapon.
I assume her agency is acting under the motor principle that keeping movement patterns as close as possible to already well-learned patterns enhances learning and speed. This is one of the reasons it is often considered a great idea to carry an off-duty weapon as close as possible to where you carry your on-duty weapon. Great idea so far, since the "cues" that will cause you to initiate the motor skill of drawing a handgun will be the same on- and off-duty.
But the Taser is a different animal. It is used in less lethal situations, which will look like a much different set of "cues" to our senses. The position and training of that instrument must be done in a completely different manner than our handguns! One of the many problems we have to deal with is that our program or schema for drawing a handgun is or should be learned to an automatic level. It is done automatically whenever the proper cues, stimuli or threats are present. Once something is learned to that level after thousands of repititions, it is difficult to change and damn near impossible to quickly forget.
The Taser feels and draws like a handgun - but is completely different. It should be placed completely away from our firearm and a new schema should be trained into our memory for its use. The proper cues should be practiced for when to use it, how to tell if it is working (knowledge of results) and how to retain it in a conflict. For more insight into motor learning issues check out Motor Learning and Performance 2nd ed. by Richard Schmidt. (See more information about Dr. Schmidt's research at the bottom of the page)
Hopefully by applying these human learning and performance principles we can prevent Taser/firearm placement confusion. Also, if you train anyone in any motor skill - from Little League to Officer Survival - you should familiarize yourself with Dr. Schmidt's principles.


The Associated Press

BREMERTON, Wash.- A sheriff's deputy who was trying to get a man down from a tree shot and wounded him after mistakenly pulling a gun instead of a Taser, authorities say.

The deputy, a five-year veteran of the force whose name was not released, was placed on leave while Thursday's shooting is investigated.

Deputies carry both a Taser and a gun on their utility belts. The Taser, or stun gun, is similar in shape to the compact .40-caliber gun the deputy carried, sheriff's spokesman Scott Wilson said.

The victim was listed in satisfactory condition.

The man had been climbed a fig tree and stayed there for hours, talking to himself. Deputies were unsure whether he was intoxicated or psychotic, and they wanted to get him down before he hurt himself or others, Wilson said.

Deputies and rescue workers tried to coax him down for almost two hours, during which he became increasingly hostile, said David Blakeslee, an employee at an auto repair shop nearby.

Blakeslee said the man climbed down on his own after getting shot.

"He said, 'Ow, that hurt. I'm coming down, I'm coming down,'" Blakeslee said.


Richard A. Schmidt

  • provided definition of motor learning
  • developed schema theory of motor learning
    Schmidt's definition of motor learning: "Motor learning is a set of [internal] processes associated with practice or experience leading to relatively permanent changes In the capability for responding" (Schmidt, 1988, p.346; Schmidt, 1991, p.51).appears in: Schmidt, R.A. (1988). Motor Control and Learning: A Behavioral Emphasis. 2nd ed. Champaign, IL: Human Kinetics.and in a very accessible article in which Schmidt relates his work to physical therapy: Schmidt, R.A. (1991). Motor learning principles for physical therapy. In: Foundation for Physical Therapy. Contemporary Management of Motor Control Problems: Proceedings of the II-STEP Conference. Alexandria, VA: Foundation for Physical Therapy.
    R.A. Schmidt developed the "schema theory" of motor learning

    Schmidt argued, partly against J.A. Adams'(1971) closed loop theory, that people don't learn specific movements. Instead, they construct "generalized motor programs." They do this by exploring programming rules, learning the ways in which certain classes of movement are related. Then they learn how to produce different movements within a class by varying the parameters that determine the way in which movements are constructed.


    Parameters are features of a movement, for instance, its duration or overall time, or the level of force that develops in the muscles that contribute to the movement. By scaling these parameters up or down (vertical axis), people produce variations (horizontal axis) among a class of movements.

    As people practice a movement, like throwing a ball various distances or in various directions, or climbing stairs of various dimensions, they learn the relationship between the parameters and the outcome. By collecting "data points" like the ones in the figure (adapted from Schmidt, 1988, Fig. 14-7), they improve their understanding of the relationship between a movement outcome and their control of the movement's parameters (the "best-fitting straight line" in the figure).

    An important prediction of the theory is that people will more quickly learn the relationship between manipulating parameters and achieving a desired movement outcome if they practice a task in wide variety of sitations, and experience errors in the process. To use the figure as an illustration, the theory predicts that people will more quickly appreciate the underlying "best-fitting line" (the rules by which a generalized motor program produces a class of movements) when they accumulate a large and broad scatter of data points (a varied experience of movement).


    Practice that lacks variety, but is instead precise or repetitious, will not (from Schmidt's perspective) provide enough information for a learner to fathom the rules that underlie the generalized motor program.

    In Schmidt's theory, this relationship betweeen the parameters and outcomes are collected in two "schemes" or "schema," hence the name by which his theory is known.


    • Recall schema relates outcomes to parameters like those listed above, movement duration, overall force production, etc.


    • Recognition schema relates expected sensory consequences of a movement to the movement's outcome. This is reminiscent of Adams' earlier ideas of an "internal reference of correctness"

    Schmidt describes the theory's main points in:


    Schmidt, R.A. (1988). Motor Control and Learning: A Behavioral Emphasis. (2nd ed.). Champaign, IL: Human Kinetics, pp. 482-489.The seminal article is:


    Schmidt, R.A. (1975). A schema theory of discrete motor skill learning. Psychological Review, 82, 225-260.Last updated 5-2-01 ©Dave Thompson PT
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