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Electronic Control Devices on the Force Continuum

In today’s society law enforcement administrator’s and trainers should evaluate their use-of-force policies relating to the use of an electronic control device (ECD), i.e., the TASER®. Administrators should consider placing the ECD at multiple levels on the use-of-force continuum based upon a subject’s resistance level. Some police agencies have considered removing the ECD as a tool, and others have considered moving it higher on the use-of-force continuum due to a risk of injury and civil litigation.

An ECD can be deployed in a pain-compliance mode (i.e., drive stun) causing pain in a centralized location for passively resisting subject or as a probe deployment causing neuro-muscular incapacitation (NMI) on an aggressive or assaultive subject. NMI is when the sensory and motor nerves of the body are affected simultaneously, causing the subject to commonly react by falling to the ground, involuntary muscle contractions and freezing in place.

An officer that finds it is necessary and objectively reasonable to utilize an ECD as a pain-compliance tool in order to control a passively resisting subject should have the option without violating a department’s policy. It is the responsibility of police trainers to ensure that officers have proper training relating to deployment methods of an ECD based upon resistance met to prevent an incident form becoming more violent.

During a full probe deployment, the TASER X26 will deliver about 1,200 peak volts of electricity for 5 seconds causing NMI. A drive stun technique is accomplished by removing the cartridge and then driving the ECD into targeted areas of the subject. A drive stun usually only affects the sensory nerves in the region being targeted and commonly does not cause NMI. No probes are deployed during a drive stun technique. The two methods can be utilized together if the situation requires; a drive stun can be accomplished with the cartridge still attached after probes are deployed.

Officers are instructed to utilize the ECD based upon department policy. Policies range from deployment at or below the use of aerosol spray up to just before the use of deadly force.

The suggestion is to consider separating the two available methods of use on an ECD based upon the subject’s resistance level. By properly deploying a drive stun technique the ECD can be used at a lower level on the force continuum. An officer can control the impact of the ECD during a drive stun, thereby controlling the area, suspect and duration of deployment, decreasing the chance of an injury.

Pain-compliance techniques are often used by officers to produce a behavior change to a resisting subject. A subject may be resisting physically without fighting, such as people under arrest who refuse to be placed in a patrol car or comply with other lawful commands. Such behavior may be modified through the use of pain-compliance techniques.

When an officer attempts to use traditional pain-compliance techniques and the technique is not successful, a subject’s behavior may become more aggressive, increasing the threat to both the officer and the resisting subject. The use of the ECD as a pain-compliance tool to modify a resisting subject’s behavior can be more successful than applying other physical pain-compliance techniques. The deployment of pain-compliance techniques are often more difficult for smaller officers and may place the officer in a position of compromise when dealing with a larger subject.

All deployments of an ECD should be documented and reviewed to ensure that policy is followed and that training has been effective. It is not recommended that officers replace the use of hands on pain-compliance techniques with an ECD. The recommendation is that ECDs be added as an additional tool to be utilized when needed as a pain-compliance technique. Properly trained officers should have the ability to determine when the ECD should be deployed instead of hands-on tactics.

Daily officers must make decisions as to the level of force necessary to affect a lawful objective. In many instances, officers must determine if they should use empty hand techniques, pepper spray, police baton, an ECD or a firearm. Officers are accustomed to making the decision quickly in stressful situations. Adding the ECD as a pain-compliance level on the force continuum will give officers another step to aid in their decision-making process when they find it necessary to deploy force.

Statistics obtained from TASER International Inc. revealed that the San Jose, CA Police utilized drive stun methods 69 times with an effective result in 61% of the uses in 2006. The San Jose Police utilized the probe deployment method 163 times with an effective result in 72% of the uses. A six-month study conducted by the Columbus, OH Police Department in 2005 revealed that officers utilized a TASER in a drive stun method 132 times with an effective result in 76% of the uses. The officers utilized probe deployment method 120 times with an effective result of 89% of the uses.

According to these studies concerning the use of an ECD, it was determined that the probe deployment method was the most desired method based upon effectiveness. However, the drive stun method is still an effective tool to change the behavior of a resisting subject.
Multiple levels of deployment of the ECD can increase the safety of officers, reduce injuries to resisting subjects, and reduce claims against the agency. The dynamics of controlling a resistant subject requires that officers have multiple tools and tactics. An ECD can be useful in allowing officers an opportunity to adjust the level of force response to the situation they are dealing with.

Roger Overholt is the chief of police in Morristown, TN and a graduate of the FBI National Academy. He can be reached at Captain Chris Wisecarver is the commander of the Morristown Special Response Team. He can be reached at

Published in Tactical Response, May/Jun 2009

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