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Just "Tase" Me, Bro!
Unrealistic expectations from an imperfect weapon
All About TASERS
An introduction to the history, use, importance and limitations of the TASER.
The purpose of this article is in response to police critics who claim that some officer involved shootings can be avoided if only a TASER had been utilized. Sometimes that criticism is valid. Often times that criticism is based on a lack of knowledge of police tactics and use of force theory.
What Problem Are We Trying to Solve?
For over fifty years police leaders, academics, and private industry have been trying to find the best “intermediate” weapon system for police officers. That is - a weapon system that a police officer can utilize that is in between a baton and a gun.
As you can imagine there are a lot of incidents where force from a police officer is: 1) reasonable and necessary, 2) where a baton is simply “not enough” force, and 3) a gun (deadly force) is “too much” force.
The most common real-life example of this (that police officers all over the country face) is a person armed with a knife or blunt object - who has not yet charged at or attacked. They may be aggressive and making verbal threats but in the moment - no human is in immediate danger. In a situation like that - a police officer should not walk up to the individual (ie: “close distance”) and smack them with a baton - unless the officer is planning to get stabbed in the neck. Also, a situation like this would not yet call for utilizing “deadly force” - as “deadly force” is only lawful to preserve a human life that is in immediate danger of death or great bodily injury.
This is a situation that calls for a weapon system in the middle between a baton and a gun. An “intermediate” weapon system.
I remember a specific day in 2004 when this subject was broached during the final year of my undergrad at Western Illinois University. My major was Law Enforcement and Justice Administration (LEJA) and the 400 level course was titled “Issues in Policing”. The instructor (Dr. Clyde Cronkhite) spent an entire day covering the issue - intermediate weapon systems for police officers.
Dr. Cronkhite showed the class demonstration videos of different weapon systems. One appeared to be sillier and more unrealistic than the next. For example, there was a giant bazooka-looking thing that shot out a net - and was supposed to capture fleeing criminals like in a Bugs Bunny cartoon. There was another contraption that fired out foam that solidified in the air and would trap a person like they were in a cocoon. There was also a less sophisticated Bola Wraptype system that fired a rope that wrapped around a person’s body - pinning their arms to their sides.
Finally, there was the Electronic Control Weapon (ECW) or “TASER”. “TASER” is the name of the company, but the marketing of the product has been so successful that the name of the brand has become the common term (like the “XEROX” or “Google”). Therefore, due to the parlance of our times I will refer to this weapon as a "TASER" for the remainder of the article.
The point of the information provided by Dr. Cronkhite and the class discussion that followed was not to “sell” these future police leaders and criminologists on any single intermediate weapon system, but to explain that this issue was still a work in progress, that police agencies still did not have the perfect solution, but that (at least as of 2004) the TASER was likely the best available technology.
Ride the Lightning
I’m a cop with a law degree and you will absolutely not catch me trying to explain the science behind anything (including a TASER).
But, in very basic terms - a TASER can be utilized in two ways:
By pulling the trigger and firing out probes that attach to clothing or skin (“stand off” mode. This can be effective up to around a maximum distance of 20-25 feet.
By taking off the cartridge (where the probes are housed), pulling the trigger, and pressing the device directly against a person’s body (“drive stun” mode). Think of an old school “stun gun” from an 80’s movie.
The desired effect of the “stand off” deployment would be neuromuscular incapacitation for a period of at least 5 seconds. Essentially, the affected individual would be unable to move, resist, or fight while the TASER deployment was cycling (5 seconds). This is ideally enough time for a police officer to safely handcuff the individual - while under the power of the TASER.
The desired effect of the “drive stun” deployment is strictly pain compliance. The person is only affected while the device is touching them.
A Deadly Weapon?
A TASER is not classified as a “deadly weapon”.
However, if used/threatened against a police officer - a reasonable police officer will perceive this as a “deadly force” situation.
The best evidence that I have for the opinion that a TASER is not a “deadly weapon” when used by police is that most police officers are themselves “tased” during the training and certification process for carrying a TASER on duty.
It should be noted that when I was in the police academy in 2005, my academy class was informed that being “tased” was not an option but instead a requirement. So, like the rest of my class, I had the pleasure of being "tased" two times. I later found out that the "exposure" portion of the course was technically optional - but that our police academy instructors thought that it was good for us. In retrospect, it was good for us to know what a TASER could do an affected individual.
“in the thick of the fog of a fight”
Just like being “maced” during the police academy- the idea was that an officer could be “maced” or “tased” by a criminal or accidentally by another officer in the thick of the fog of a fight. It was in the interest of training warriors to have those uncomfortable experiences in a controlled environment so that an officer would know what to expect and how to fight through this type of adversity if a real-life situation occurred.
So, yes, a TASER deployment is 50K volts of electricity and it is uncomfy for a few seconds but if it were designed for or likely to cause death - they would not utilize it on police academy cadets. Weapon systems that do cause death or serious bodily injury - handgun, shotgun, rifle, 40 mm launcher, beanbag shotgun, etc… are not deployed at police academy cadets in a sadistic form of “show and tell”.
Reliability and Limitations
In order for a TASER to produce the desired effect a lot has to go right. First, when the trigger is pulled on a TASER - two prongs are fired out of the “blast door”. Both prongs have to strike and attach to the target individual. Then the spread (distance between both probes) has to be at least twelve inches apart. It is like firing a gun that shoots out two bullets and both bullets have to hit the target, which may be moving, in order for the weapon system to have any effect. Then if the targeted individual is wearing multiple layers of clothing or a winter jacket - the individual may not be incapacitated at all. Also, the officer is usually under great stress, during TASER deployment, which we know has a great effect on the limitations of human performance.
A study was conducted with LAPD officers between 2015 and 2017 and the result was that a TASER deployment failed to achieve the desired effect 40% of the time.
Therefore, if an individual with a knife is bearing down on an officer - that officer should not rely on the TASER as a force option - if there is a 40% chance that the device will not stop the action of the offender and it is essentially a “coin toss” whether or not the police officer is stabbed to death. This is why a TASER is an important tool in a force array (multiple force options from multiple officers).
During a dynamic police incident, a TASER option - in concert with another/many other officers present and who are responsible for deadly force is important.
If time and resources allow police officers should be equipped with as many force options as possible in order to peacefully resolve situations.
The use of TASERS has absolutely saved lives - as without this weapon system - police officers may have had to utilize deadly force. But there are limits to the TASER and not every situation can be resolved by this important device.
Don’t Tase me Bro!
No TASER article is complete without this video.
“Google it”, “Xerox that for me?”, “Tase him already!”.
Big Lebowski reference
Many police departments prohibit police officers to utilize the ECW in this manner unless officers are in a deadly force situation - where they have no other options.
More on this topic in a subsequent and “coming soon” article.
Being “maced” (aka. “OC” spray) was far worse than being “tased”. It is not close. A TASER is uncomfortable for 5 seconds, whereas mace can burn your eyes and skin for several hours. So, avoid the “hot sauce” if possible!