How to mitigate the dangers of TASER deployment against suspects

Any officer employing a TASER against an armed subject should be working in tandem with an officer armed with a firearm

There are two popular videos showing police officers dealing with subjects armed with contact weapons. One, here in the U.S., involves a man with a knife. Because the suspect is outside the range of the TASER, the device does not work and the officers are, unfortunately, forced to shoot him. The other in England involves a man armed with a hammer. Officers do not use lethal force cover and the TASER fails due to the suspect’s clothing. Both of these videos serve as reminders of the considerations that officers must make when attempting to deploy a TASER against an armed subject.

Lethal, then less lethal

In any situation with an armed subject, the primary officer should always arm themselves with a firearm in order to be ready to deal with the deadly force threat. When a decision to attempt to have a less-lethal option is made, the second or third officer on scene should take that role.

Move to TASER range only when the decision has been made to attempt a TASER deployment. (Photo/AP)
Move to TASER range only when the decision has been made to attempt a TASER deployment. (Photo/AP)

TASER vs reaction/response time

The TASER is a very common less-lethal option. Typical ranges for the cartridges are 15 and 25 feet. To effectively use them you must be closer than the length of the wires. 

In 1983, Dennis Tueller devised a drill to demonstrate reaction/response time. Reaction time is the time it takes for the brain to recognize a threat and formulate a response. If you apply it to the OODA Loop, reaction time is the first three steps – observe, orient and decide. Response time is the time it takes to complete the physical motions required. In this case, drawing and firing a pistol once—or action. The Tueller Drill demonstrated that police officers could draw and fire one round, on average, in 1.5 seconds. Tueller then determined that people could travel, on average, 21 feet in 1.5 seconds.

What a lot of people don’t seem to realize is that if someone is armed with a knife and charges from 21 feet away, and both the officer and the suspect are average, the suspect will stab the officer before he or she can draw his or her weapon. Why? Because in a real situation, the officer will have a delay because he or she has to determine what the suspect’s actions mean and then make the decision to draw. In other words, during a drill all officers already know what they need to do – draw and fire on a signal. Drills often eliminate the need to observe, orient and decide before acting.

That additional reaction time, during a real situation, will add about a half second before the officer can start to draw and fire the weapon. Some people refer to the Tueller Drill as the “21- foot rule” and some have come to believe that 21 feet from an armed subject is a safe distance to deploy. It isn’t. Taking a step back to 22 feet doesn’t make you any safer. Research by Force Science takes into account the reaction/response time coupled with an understanding about the movement of any suspect who is attacking an officer. This often results in misses and multiple rounds that may be required to stop a subject. Therefore, I suggest a distance of 30 feet as the minimum from an armed subject, and a greater distance is advised whenever possible.

30 foot recommendation

Compare the 30 foot recommendation to the 15 or 25-foot cartridges you currently carry or even the 35-foot cartridges. Consider that any time you get close enough to deploy your TASER, you are close enough for an armed subject to fatally attack you. The TASER is a great tool, and I wished I had it for my entire career. However, for the TASER to be effective, both probes must strike, they must penetrate through clothing far enough for the electrical current to reach the skin, the circuit cannot be broken for the duration of the cycle(s), the probes must be far enough apart, they must be in the proper muscle groups for effective results and the suspect has to be someone who is affected by the electrical current.

Those are a lot of “if’s,” and that is why it is strongly suggested that anyone employing a TASER against an armed subject should be working in tandem with an officer armed with a firearm. Officers also need to understand that in real situations suspects may have to be shot multiple times before they stop. Those rounds will take time to take effect. Until the suspect stops, they can cause death and injury. In other words, while an officer may be armed with a gun, he or she is in the same danger at the same distances.

With that understanding, I strongly suggest against standing within TASER range for long periods of time while talking with suspects. If the suspect charges with deadly intent, both lethal and less lethal measures may fail to stop the homicidal assault.

Instead, stay at a minimum of 30 feet away, with cover/concealment whenever possible. Move to TASER range only when the decision has been made to attempt a TASER deployment.

The desired outcome in any armed/barricaded subject call is to take the suspect into custody alive. A plan, professionally executed with good teamwork and an understanding of the limitations of technology and human performance (both officer and suspect), is essential for the safety of the subject, community and officer(s). Realistic expectations lead to realistic training. Keep it real.

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