Seattle PD Special Report On the M26 TASER (Pt. 2)
Seattle PD Special Report On The M26 TASER - Part 2
For a PDF version of the report, visit: http://www.cityofseattle.net/police/Publications/Special/M26Taser.PDF
The M26 Taser - Year 1 Field Experience The following discussion reviews incidents in which tasers were deployed by SPD officers from January 1, 2001 through January 31, 2002. A total of 106 incidents are described and discussed (3). When and Where Tasers were Used - Even though there was to be a limited deployment of the M26 taser, the overall strategy was to provide some coverage across the city on a 24x7 basis. Table A reflects actual taser uses distributed among three daily time periods. As can be seen in Table A, taser deployments were heaviest in the late afternoon to midnight time period. Table A - Taser Use by Time of Day SPD, Jan 2001 - Jan 2002, N = 106 Time Period # of Deployments % of Deployments 0800 - 1600 hours 21 20% 1600 - 2400 hours 55 52% 2400 - 0800 hours 30 28% When taser incidents are charted by precinct, the South and West Precincts portray a more dominant use of the device than do the North and East Precincts. Table B shows the distribution of taser incidents by Precinct. Table B - Taser Use Incidents by Precinct SPD, Jan 2001 - Jan 2002, N = 106 Precinct # of Incidents % of Incidents West 32 30% North 19 18% South 34 32% East 20 19% Other/out of city 1 1% Closely related to the issue of geographic distribution and coverage is the availability of taser officers. This is especially significant in light of the fact that the tasers are in limited deployment across the city. To examine this issue, taser incidents were classified according to how often the taser officer was part of the first response, part of a back-up unit, or specifically requested by officers at the scene. Table C presents this information. As can be seen, taser officers were frequently among the officers first responding to an incident. Table C - Incidents by Taser Officer as First Response, Back-up or Request SPD, Jan 2001 - Jan 2002, N = 106 Taser Officer Involved # of Incidents % of Incidents Officer in first response 59 56% Officer in back-up unit 38 36% Officer specifically requested 9 8% Types of Incidents Where Tasers Were Used - Table D presents the types of incidents in which officers used their tasers. In classifying these events, the original type of call/incident to which officers responded has been used, even though the situation may have developed into something else. For example, officers may have initiated a traffic stop for reckless driving. Since this was the initiating event, the incident would be classified as "traffic-related," even if the vehicle turned out to be stolen or drugs were seized and arrests made for these crimes. If one trend is evident in Table D it is that there is no "typical" taser incident. Rather officers have used the device in a variety of circumstances as shown by the even distribution in the table. Situations involving mentally ill/suicidal persons and traffic-related events, however, edge out other types of incidents to comprise the most frequent categories of incidents where tasers were employed. This reflects a primary interest of the Department's Less Lethal Options Program, which is to provide alternative tools to officers who are regularly called upon to deal with persons in crisis, either because of a mental illness or because of drug or alcohol impairments, a frequent component of traffic stops. Table D - Initial Classification of Incidents Where Tasers Were Used SPD, Jan 2001 - Jan 2002, N = 106 Type of Incident # of Incidents % of Incidents Drug or Alcohol Related 17 16% Fight/Disturbance Call 17 16% Mental Illness/Suicide 21 19% Traffic Related 20 19% Violent Crime 14 13% Other 17 16% A few examples of these types of taser incidents will illustrate the challenges they pose for officers. Mental/Suicide Incident #1 - officers were called to the scene of a man jumping in front of cars in an apparent effort to be hit. As officers approached, the man kept walking away and reaching into his waistband as if going for a weapon. He also crouched behind planters on the street as if retrieving something. Officers drew their service weapons and ordered him to stop and put his hands where they could be seen. One officer called for a taser unit. When it arrived, officers again ordered the man to raise his hands. Instead he put them in his waistband and withdrew his hand pointing it at officers like a pistol. At this point the taser was applied, striking the man and immobilizing him. He was taken to Harborview Medical Center (HMC) for mental evaluation. It was learned later that the man had been released earlier in the day from the jail mental ward and had tried (unsuccessfully) to reenter it. Mental/Suicide Incident #2 - officers were called to an apartment by a mental health case worker who was concerned about a client who had threatened suicide by slitting her wrists or jumping from the balcony of her 4 th floor apartment. A Crisis Intervention Team (CIT) trained officer was the first to respond, followed by back-up units including a taser officer. Officers obtained a key from the apartment manager and the CIT officer attempted to contact the woman, who by now had barricaded herself in the apartment. As the door was opened and forced against the furniture holding it, officers saw the subject bolt for the balcony. Forcing themselves inside, the CIT officer ran and tackled the woman as she reached the balcony while the taser officer used the stun mode of the taser to pacify her enough to be removed from the danger zone of the balcony. She continued to fight and struggle even when in restraints for transport to Harborview Medical Center for mental health evaluation. Mental/Suicide Incident #3 - officers responded to a call about a male mentally ill person screaming and yelling at fellow apartment tenants. The apartment manager indicated the subject was on the 9th floor. Officers took the elevator to the 8th floor and used the stairway to the 9th floor. On entering the hallway, they observed the subject staring at the elevator, waiting for it to open, with a fixed blade knife in hand. The subject turned toward the officers who told him to drop the weapon. Instead he advanced toward them from about 15 feet away. While his partner provided lethal cover, the other officer used his taser, hitting the subject in the shoulder and hip. This disabled the subject so he could be placed in custody. While awaiting SFD transport, the subject again became agitated and belligerent so a second taser cycle was applied. The subject was transported to Harborview Medical Center for mental evaluation. Traffic-related Incident #1 - In the first taser use in 2001, officers responded to a two-car, hit-and-run, injury accident. The officer who spotted the vehicle leaving the scene was able to stop it, but the intoxicated driver was extremely belligerent and non- compliant. A taser officer arrived as a back-up unit and applied the taser as it became clear that the subject was becoming more and more uncontrolled with each attempt to gain his compliance. The taser struck the subject in his arm, but it took three cycles of the device to place the driver under arrest. Traffic-related Incident #2 - officers attempted to stop a car for reckless driving, when it sped away. While following, officers learned that the car was stolen. The driver stopped abruptly and fled on foot, with officers also in foot pursuit. Once the subject was contained in a fenced area, officers attempted to get him to surrender, without success. Instead the subject turned and ran toward officers refusing to show his hands. One of the officers, who was equipped with a taser, applied it. The subject continued to be uncooperative as officers attempted to handcuff him, so a second cycle of the taser was used. After that, the subject was arrested without further incident. The next three categories of taser incidents - drug/alcohol, fight/disturbance, and violent crime incidents - were roughly equal in number. These tended to follow a predictable pattern in which officer attempts to stop a suspect involved in a drug sale, or to intervene in a disturbance, or arrest on a warrant, resulted in either flight by the suspect, aggression toward the officers, or both. Once confronted by officers, typically after a pursuit, the suspect resisted officer commands, often violently. This was followed by repeated attempts to gain suspect compliance and finally to bring him/her under control. The taser often proved to be the most effective of the control measures employed. A few examples follow. Violent Crime Incident - officers attempted to arrest a subject on a felony rape warrant. During a foot chase, the subject drew a spring-loaded knife from his clothing so violently that it was projected from his hand. During the pursuit, the taser was applied, hitting the subject as he was running. It brought him to the ground, but he still resisted as he was being arrested. After he was subdued, a second knife was recovered. Fight/Disturbance Incident - officers responded to a call about a fight. On arrival, two large subjects were observed to be brawling, surrounded by a large group of on-lookers. As the two officers attempted to intervene, one subject pushed away from officers, took a fighting stance with balled fists, shouted obscenities, and stepped toward officers. The crowd also started to react toward the officers. One of the officers had a taser and deployed it on the subject at the very moment that the other combatant reached around to restrain him from assaulting the officers. Each of the taser prongs hit one of the subjects, one in a finger and one in the back. Because their arms were wrapped together, both subjects were affected. After they were taken into custody, it was evident that both were very intoxicated. As things calmed down, the more aggressive subject agreed that officers had done the right thing; the other was released to a family member. "Other" Category Incident - The "other" category of taser events was generally comprised of property crimes, on-view loitering or harassment incidents, probation or warrant violation cases. An example of this type of incident involved a "send police" call to 911, made by a woman caller who indicated that someone was trying to break into her home. Upon arrival, the officers observed the suspect attempting to restrain a woman on a couch. She was screaming for help. The officers entered and told the subject to get on the floor. He complied but kept trying to reach under the couch for something. Thinking the subject was trying to reach for a weapon, the taser was applied. He became compliant and was taken into custody. He was booked for a domestic violence- related burglary. The woman was his estranged wife. Characteristics of Taser Subjects - Taser incidents were reviewed to determine the gender, age, and race of subjects on whom tasers were used. Males significantly outnumber females as taser subjects, with males comprising 94% of subjects. The age distribution of taser subjects is close to a bell curve, with just over two-thirds of the subjects between the ages of 21 and 40, and the balance split almost evenly between the 20 and under age group and the over 40 age group. Table E presents the age distribution of taser subjects. Table E - Age Distribution of Taser Subjects SPD, Jan 2001 - Jan 2002, N = 106 Age Category # of Subjects % of Subjects 20 years old and younger 16 15% 21-25 years old 20 19% 26-30 years old 17 16% 31-35 years old 15 14% 36-40 years old 19 18% Over 40 years of age 19 18% Taser incidents were also classified by the race of the subject on whom the taser was used. These data are presented in Table F. About half of the taser subjects were Caucasians, with African Americans comprising the next largest group. Taser incidents were also reviewed and classified according to the degree and type of impairment that subjects exhibited to officers. Table G presents information on the number of incidents and types of impairments shown by taser subjects. Table F - Distribution of Taser Subjects by Race SPD. Jan 2001 - Jan 2002, N =106 Race of Taser Subject # of Subjects % of Subjects Caucasian 52 49% African American 44 42% Asian/Pacific Islander 6 6% Other 4 4% Table G - Numbers and Types of Impairment of Taser Subjects SPD, Jan 2001 - Jan 2002, N = 106 Taser Subject Impaired # of Subjects % of Subjects Alcohol impaired 24 22% Chemical/drug impaired 11 10% Drug & alcohol impaired 4 4% Mental illness/delusional 24 22% No apparent impairment 43 41% Nearly sixty percent of the incidents involved subjects that were impaired to one degree or another, often seriously. As indicated, persons suffering from delusions or mental illness and those who were alcohol-impaired comprised the largest groups of impaired persons confronted by officers. Impairment resulting from other types of substance abuse appeared in another 14% of the incidents. A notable characteristic of taser subjects was the degree to which they were armed. A quarter of taser subjects (26 subjects) were armed, most often with knives (in 11 cases). Sixteen (62%) of the armed subjects were impaired, with ten of the sixteen cases involving the mentally ill or delusional persons. What is surprising about the number of taser incidents involving armed subjects is the fact that officers so often chose to use a less lethal option when confronting subjects who not only were armed, but who also appeared determined, in a number of cases, to assault or harm officers. How Tasers Were Used and the Results Obtained - In about 60% of the taser incidents, the dart projectile mode of the M26 Taser was used. The stun mode of the device was used 27% of the time; and both systems were used in just under 12% of cases. Use of the dual system modes occurred when subjects became newly resistant after having been subdued, or when the dart projectiles failed to reach the subject or became dislodged during a struggle. Taser Performance - Because of the varied circumstances and conditions in which tasers were used, the Department captured performance data in three ways. First, each taser incident was reviewed to see if there had been a verified contact of the subject with the taser. Often, a taser might be described by observing officers as "not working", but the taser officer indicated that the prongs had not reached the subject, or only one had hit the mark, or extra layers of clothing had prevented the darts from making contact. Of the 106 cases studied, verified taser contact in either stun or dart mode was confirmed in 91 cases or 86% of the time. Next, the Department looked at the effect of the taser when contact was made. Among the 91 cases where there had been verified contact, 95% reported either a disabling, or partially disabling, effect on the subject. Finally, the Department reviewed taser deployments to see whether the device either brought the subject under control or led to the resolution of the incident. In 85% of all taser incidents (91 of 106 cases), the device was credited with helping to resolve the situation. In incidents where there was verified contact with the taser, the rate of success was 92% (in 84 of 91 cases) in controlling the subject or bringing the situation to resolution. Subject and Officer Injury - Taser incidents were also reviewed to determine the extent of subject and officer injuries that occurred when tasers were used. National studies have consistently found that uses of force are more likely during officer interactions with persons who are mentally ill or under the influence of drugs or alcohol. They have also found that uses of force often result in injuries to both officers and subjects. These studies have placed the rate of officer injuries at 10% in general use of force situations and as high as 30-40% in incidents involving mentally ill and impaired subjects. Injuries to subjects occur nationally at a rate of 38% in general use of force incidents, with bruises or abrasions being the most common injuries sustained. More serious injuries, such as broken bones, were reported in about 1.5% of use of force incidents studied. (4) In light of these statistics, the reported injury rate for both officers and subjects in the taser incidents during the first year of implementation was low. In more than two-thirds of the incidents (68%), subjects sustained either no injury or only puncture abrasions from the taser darts. Injuries subsequent to the taser deployment were reported in 13% of incidents. Generally, these injuries occurred as subjects fell to the ground after having been "hit" with taser darts. In 19% of the incidents, subject injuries occurred prior to police arrival, prior to taser deployment, or were self-inflicted. No subject injuries were major, and there were no injuries attributed directly to the taser itself. There were no officer injuries in eighty-seven (82%) of the incidents studied. In 13% of the incidents, officers sustained injuries prior to the taser being applied. In only 5% of the incidents were there officer injuries after taser deployment or directly related to its use. In all cases, the injuries to officers were minor. Because of the high proportion of taser subjects who were impaired, these relatively low rates of reported officer injuries are very encouraging. This helps to meet another key objective of the Department's Less Lethal Options Program, which is to provide options that officers can deploy safely. The low injury rate associated with the taser is one of its biggest selling points for officers. Taser officers have frequently reported to trainers how much they appreciate having a tool at their disposal that can resolve incidents "without anyone getting hurt". Lessons from Year One of Taser Implementation With the benefit of just over a year of operational experience with the M-26 Taser, it is useful to reflect on the lessons the Department has learned. Four particular insights are important to note. 1. Choice of the Taser - While the M-26 had a lot to recommend it when less lethal options were first evaluated, the Department could predict neither the level of officer acceptance it would receive, nor its applicability to the situations routinely faced by officers. Also unknown was the degree to which the taser would prove useful in the types of incidents the Less Lethal Options Program was designed to address. By all accounts, the taser appears to have been the right choice. Officer acceptance has been high and taser officers have clearly incorporated the device into their daily response routines. In addition, the number of reported taser incidents involving mentally ill and otherwise impaired persons suggests that the device is providing an alternative in the types of situations envisioned by the Less Lethal Options Program. Finally, in light of the low rate of injury reported in taser incidents, the device has proven to be a less lethal option that officers can safely use to defuse situations, while offering minimal risk to subjects or themselves. 2. Phased deployment - Although it would have been tempting to deploy all of the tasers as soon as possible, the Department was deliberate and measured in its deployment, heeding the admonition of other agencies not to deploy beyond true training capacity. It was imperative to monitor taser uses carefully and to ensure that field experience was used to inform and refresh training efforts. The phased approach also helped the Department ensure that its 24x7 and citywide coverage objectives were being achieved. 3. Expectations of the taser must be adjusted to fit with reality - Because the taser has shown itself beneficial in a variety of incidents, there is a tendency (both internally and externally) to view it as a panacea. This is far from the truth. To begin with, the device has some very real operational limitations that must be understood and appreciated. To work best, the taser batteries must be at full strength, both darts should make contact, and the wires should remain intact. Absent all these conditions, the desired effect may not be obtained. Moreover, deploying the taser on highly impaired subjects may not offer the best opportunity to achieve optimal operational conditions. In addition, while the M-26 provides greater standoff distance for officers than did earlier tasers, the 6-21 foot range of the device is still perilously close, especially when confronting persons who are armed. In this regard, the number of armed subjects on whom officers used the taser this first year should be viewed, perhaps, as a cautionary note and one to be carefully watched. For the public's part, the reality is that the taser does not signal the end of police shootings. Instead, officers will still need to employ lethal force when situations so warrant. For officers' part, the reality is that while the taser does some things really well, it is not the answer in all cases. There are some uses for which the taser is simply inappropriate; and it cannot overcome its inherent limitations in field applications. Ongoing monitoring and tracking of field uses will continue to be the best way to ensure that taser officers and their peers are kept apprised of what works and what doesn't. 4. The holes in the "safety net" grow wider - A review of the first year's taser incidents suggests that the explicit goal to provide first responding officers with alternatives to deadly force when dealing with persons in crisis has been met. That same review, however, serves to illustrate just how difficult and problematic these circumstances are. Among the sample of taser incidents studied were those where officers were called to deal with people completely out of control and without any means of either physical or emotional support. Other cases involved providing assistance to mental health professionals and other caregivers being abused or assaulted by those they were trying to assist. In still others, officers were asked to confront desperate or despondent persons for whom all other help had fallen short. Clearly, the "safety net" for the mentally ill, and for those ravaged by substance abuse, is badly frayed. Even those who are receiving services appear to need more or different assistance than the system can provide; and with the current pressures on public sector budgets at all levels, it is likely that the situation will continue to deteriorate. This will place more and more officers into confrontations with persons whose judgments and actions are wildly unpredictable and who, more often than not, appear to represent armed threats. Though such persons may be more irrational than intentional, their erratic behaviors pose dangers to officers and to the public that are nearly impossible to assess accurately and counter successfully. That officers have been able to do so under many circumstances in the past, does not mean that they will continue to prevail, no matter what options they have at their disposal. [Note: The use of force continuum used as a training tool by the Seattle Police Department, followed here in the form of a sophisticated chart. Formating and editing changes were made to display it in plain text as a progression of acts with responses. The progression starts with non verbal behavior and ends with agravated agressive action and response. The changes were also made to help in understanding the concept of: a use of force continuum. It should not be construed to be or used as a representation of the Seattle Police Department's training tool. The PDF file noted at the start of this presentation, contains the unaltered document. Its URL is: http://www.cityofseattle.net/police/Publications/ Special/M26Taser.PDF] USE OF FORCE GUIDELINE SUSPECT'S GOAL: DISRUPT/ESCAPE/ASSAULT OFFICER'S GOAL: CONTROL/IMPEDE/STOP - - - - - - - - - - PRESENCE/RESPONSE BY OFFICER Officer is readily identified by clothing, markings, equipment, or verbal announcment. NON-VERBAL BEHAVIOR BY SUSPECT Suspect exhibits non-verbal body language such as glaring or conspicuous ignoring or assumes a body position conducive to attack or flight indicating noncompliance. - - - - - - - - - - VERBAL INTERACTION BY OFFICER Dialogue, persuasion, advice, or a lawful order is given to suspect(s). VERBAL RESISTANCE BY SUSPECT Suspect makes threats or statements that indicate non compliance with an officer's lawful request. - - - - - - - - - - PASSIVE RESISTANCE BY SUSPECT Suspet "goes limp" and obstructs the officer's efforts at control, through body weight, size, or flexibility. TOUCH CONTROL BY OFFICER Control is guiding, escorting, or out-muscling a suspect that exhibits passive resistance. - - - - - - - - - - ACTIVE/EGRESSIVE RESISTANCE BY SUSPECT Suspect physically tenses his or her muscles and/or locks their arms and legs using resistive tension to avoid being controlled by the officer. Suspect attempts to escape an officer's efforts at control by pulling away from the officer's attempts at control or by running from the officer. LEVEL 1 TACTICAL RESPONSE BY OFFICER Officer attempts to gain control with pain compliance applied by use of distractions, counter-joint holds, hair control holds, oleoresin capsicum, or the M26 Taser (Touch). - - - - - - - - - - AGGRESSIVE ACTION BY SUSPECT The suspect attacks/attempts to injure the officer in the process of resisting or escaping. LEVEL 2 TACTICAL RESPONSE BY OFFICER Officer uses strikes with knees, kicks, punches, and elbows; the use of impact weapons (baton, flashlight, radio etc.) against primary and secondary targets; chemical agents in projectile forms and M26 Taser (Darts) in response to suspect's actions. - - - - - - - - - - AGGRAVATED AGGRESSIVE ACTION BY SUSPECT Suspect has pre-planned an attack or is implementing weapons and/or tactics that pose a threat of serious physical harm or death to the officer or others. LEVEL 3 TACTICAL RESPONSE BY OFFICER Officer uses deadly force in the form of neck holds, tertiary targets with impact weapons, firearms, etc. - - - - - - - - - - Footnotes: (1) = Including the taser in the use of force reporting system results in supervisory review of each taser application, up through the chain of command. (2) = The guidelines call for use of the taser's dataport feature to review application history when a complaint is received or there is information alleging improper use. Dataport downloads also occur during the annual re-qualification and re-certification required of each taser officer. During the study period, no taser-related complaints were received. (3) = Not included in this discussion are two incidents where tasers were used at some point, but which resulted in fatal shootings of subjects by police officers. This is because these incidents are still under Department review and investigation. (4) = See Kenneth Adams, "What We Know About Police Use of Force," and Mark A. Henriquez, "IACP National Database Project on Police Use of Force," in Use of Force by Police, Overview of National and Local Data, Washington, DC: NIJ, October 1999. End of presentation....Click here for the First part of the SPD report.
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