annual conference is the premier less-lethal, non-lethal event in the nation. This year, the “Who’s Who” of use-of-force met in Chicago for a two-day tactical conference followed by a three-day master instructor school. Each year about 100 master instructors are recertified and 100 more new master instructors are trained.
The tactical conference was kicked off by TASER co-founders Rick Smith and Tom Smith with numerous new product launches. The most significant was their wireless eXtended Range Electronic Projectile, XREP.
The XREP is a fin-stabilized, self-contained TASER unit weighing 14 grams and fired from a standard 12-gauge shotgun. The disposable electronic package that powers the device is smaller than a dime, and encased in epoxy. The projectile includes its own, very tiny battery. At 300 fps, the weight of the device alone has an “impact” effect. And then there is the “electronic” effect.
On impact, the XREP separates into two electrodes. The front, reflex engagement electrode remains at the point of impact. The bounce back electrode separates and with recoil energy bounces away from the subject. However, connected to a 16-inch tether, it soon entangles with the subject’s clothes or skin to make the second contact point and complete the electrical circuit. So how does the second electrode stick once it makes contact? Drawing inspiration from Arizona’s cholla cactus, tiny barb-tipped wires spring into place and hook on whatever they touch.
The XREP has a range of about 100 feet, costs about $100 per projectile and will be deployed on a pilot basis to some of TASER’s master instructors in the fall of 2007. Full production release is planned for early 2008. Excited Delirium
Dr. James Cairns, deputy chief coroner with the Province of Ontario briefed the attendees on Excited Delirium. This is a medical condition of altered consciousness first noted in 1849. The condition is important to know about because this—and not the TASER application—is the key to in-custody deaths following the application of any force: OC, PepperBall, TASER, baton, or hands-on physical takedown.
The signs and symptoms of Excited Delirium (delirium tremens) are similar to being drunk with a few critical exceptions. Yet these exceptions are common in cases resulting in in-custody death. The important exceptions are bizarre behavior (naked), random acts of violence, too much physical strength for the size, ineffectiveness of pepper spray, diminished sense of pain, and especially, sudden tranquility after a frenzy of activity.
The resulting cardiac arrhythmia and changes in heart rate, blood pressure and respiratory rate result in metabolic acidosis, a genuine medical emergency. Far from the use of the TASER, pepper spray or positional asphyxia causing death, Excited Delirium is the cause. The solution is to stop the long string of frenzy early by the use of a TASER. In other words, don’t let the build-up in this condition continue. The subject’s risk of death increases with this increased activity.
Dr. Jeffrey Ho from the Hennepin County, MN Medical Center and Dr. Don Dawes from Santa Barbara, CA gave an update on the human research with TASERs. That’s right. Officers from the instructor and master instructor courses volunteer to take a TASER application under controlled but extreme conditions.
The reason for the use of human subjects is that the tests performed on animals produce inconclusive, misleading or simply inaccurate results compared to the human experience. Can the TASER cause ventricular fibrillation? Does the TASER contribute in any way to in-custody death? Some animal studies are contradicted by human studies, and some are contradicted by other animal studies.
Recent criticism of human studies with the TASER included that the subjects were in above average physical shape, starting at a condition of rest, with normal body temperatures and heart rate, sober, and only given a single 5-second TASER application. A series of recent tests have expanded what is scientifically known about the effects of the TASER on real people.
Decidedly overweight and out-of-shape people performed pushups and ran on an elevated treadmill to the point of physical exhaustion, and then the TASER was applied. The electrocardiogram (EKG) was unchanged and the blood serum bio-markers were unchanged. Other subjects took a 15-second application of the TASER. Nothing changed. Other subjects drank alcohol to achieve a 0.11 BAC and then exposed to the TASER for 15-seconds. No bio-marker change and the respiration rate was actually slightly lower...the opposite direction from the problem.
How about respiratory effects? Does the neuro-muscular incapacitation, AKA muscular capture, stop breathing? Not based on a 50-person exposure to 15 seconds of TASER. Instead of shallow or suspended breathing, DURING the exposure the breathing is actually slightly faster and much deeper. How about a 5-second spray of OC and then a 5-second TASER cycle? As it turned out, the OC caused a higher level of physiologic stress than the TASER.
And many more human studies are under way. One is a hyperthermia test. Does the TASER raise body temperature? (This is one of the key markers in Excited Delirium.) What if the body temperature is already very high before the TASER application? If your TASER instructor said he spent all day in a hot tub during the conference in Chicago doing research...he was telling the truth!
Another is a wound progression study. Medically speaking, exactly what are the marks left by the probes immediately after a TASER application? Precisely now, what are they three days later, seven days later and 14 days later?
Public Relations Officer
Steve Tuttle, TASER’s VP of communications, cautioned police managers in the crowd of more than 500 not to judge too quickly the events surrounding a TASER application. Perception becomes reality. Wait for the facts. Demand that “good science” be used in arriving at conclusions. Watch for those people with hidden agendas. Wait for the facts. Was it a failure of the TASER device? Or was it an ineffective or improper application? Be prepared for these types of interviews and take control of the interview. And use the correct terms! The TASER is not a stun gun and not a cattle prod. It is important to know facts and stats.
Q: How does the TASER compare to a cardiac defibrillator? A: The defibrillator produces 360 joules of energy per pulse. The TASER is 5,000 times LESS powerful at 0.07 joules. More than 11,000 law enforcement agencies in 44 countries deploy the TASER. In more than 3,500 departments, the TASER is issued to all patrol officers. More than 260,000 police officers are armed with the TASER. There are 428,000 TASERs in the field. The U.S. Conference of Mayors and the National League of Cities both endorse the TASER.
And, technically, it is not 50,000 volts. Only the clothing sees that. With the X26, the body sees 1,200 volts. And what about the subject not wearing any clothes where the probes make contact? The circuitry senses a good connection and automatically adjusts to the correct voltage.
With the TASER, officer injuries are reduced by more than 50%, suspect injuries are reduced by more than 50%, internal affairs investigations are reduced, liability claims are reduced, and some people who would have been shot dead are safely arrested.
The prudent chief or sheriff will do two things. First, attend one of the so-called “chief’s courses.” The real name for this free, two-day conference held across the U.S. is the Risk Management and Legal Strategies seminar. This is not an instructor course, and it is not a sales pitch. Instead, it is all about reducing liability, reducing officer and subject injuries, reducing use-of-force claims, reducing internal affair investigations and reducing civil litigation.
The second thing is to require that the PIO in every agency that deploys the TASER be trained in the use of the TASER, i.e., attend the same exact training as the patrol officers and take an exposure if that is the department’s policy.
The education on the TASER begins with a community outreach to educate civic, religious and activist groups. Give them the facts and the science. The TASER is the most studied non-lethal weapon to date. To date, there have been 325,000 TASER applications on human subjects in actual field deployments. In addition, more than 247,000 human volunteers have been exposed.
Ken Moberly with the El Paso, TX Police explained his department’s adoption and deployment of the TASER. Nearly all of its 1,100 officers carry the TASER. He emphasized adopting the proper policy, including the proper placement of the TASER on the use-of-force continuum; then proper training in both the TASER and the department’s TASER policy; then enforcement of that policy.
Since deployment of the TASER, El Paso has seen the number of officers assaulted drop, and the number of workmen’s comp claims drop. The key is not placing the TASER too high on the force continuum. If it is too high, it will not be used as much and its benefits will not be seen. In El Paso, the acts of “active aggression” and “defensive resistant” justify the use of the TASER. At the other extreme, El Paso officers have documented 23 incidents involving emotionally disturbed people in crisis situations with edged weapons. Each of these situations would have justified lethal force, and each was resolved safety with the TASER.
Ray Minor, staff master instructor with TASER, covered the latest device to protect officers—the Tasercam®. More than 1,000 agencies are either using or testing the Tasercam, which simply snaps into an existing X26. When video evidence is present, based on our in-car camera experience, 96% of the time it protects the officer from false allegations. It also reinforces professional behavior for the jury and identifies training issues.
The Tasercam records 1.5 hours of audio and video in black-and-white at 10 frames per second. Black-and-white is better than color under low-light conditions and has twice the run time. The Tasercam also has an infrared illuminator.
The Tasercam training issues are two-fold. Because most officers are trained to shoot their firearm in a two-hand hold, they hold and aim the X26 fitted with a Tasercam the same way. The support hand almost always ends up covering the camera lens! To correct this, the proper technique is a one-hand hold.
The second training tip is to make the maximum use of the Tasercam. It is obvious to have the camera roll before and during the deployment, because when the safety is turned off, the camera is turned on. The training tip is to keep the Tasercam running well after the deployment. Record as much of the post-incident as possible. This becomes critical video evidence.
The next day opened with two critical presentations for the senior police managers in attendance. One was on the TASER device liability, the other on TASER litigation update. TASER General Counsel Doug Klint covered the litigation and liability associated with the device itself. TASER has faced 52 court challenges and has won 52 times, either dismissed or defense verdicts. The company takes all product liability cases to trial. It does not settle any cases out of court.
Mike Brave, TASER’s national litigation counsel, covered the lawsuits against the police. The excessive use of force is more accurately defined as intentionally misusing police power and authority. So, the question becomes, “Was the TASER used properly, i.e., used according to best practices training?” It is not the use of a TASER that causes legal liability but the misuse.
A huge amount of legal and litigation information involving the TASER is available on the Internet. These sites include www.incustodydeath.com, www.ecdlaw.info, www.ipicd.com. These sites contain 20 years of TASER litigation. The dozens of court decisions found on these sites confirm that the use of a TASER may have a lower total risk than available alternatives. The courts also acknowledged that the use of the TASER may prevent greater harm coming to the suspects.
The TASER may actually become the most reasonable use of force under Draper v. Reynolds. That court ruled the “reasonable” is determined by a three-prong approach. First, what was the need for the application of force? Second, what is the relationship between the need and the amount of force used. Third, what is the extent of the injury inflicted.
See Draper v. Reynolds (11th Cir. 2004), Ewolski v. Brunswick (6th Cir. 2003), Bennett v. Cambra (N.D. Cal 1997), Stanley v. Baytown (S.D. Tex 2005) and Alford v. Osei-Kwasi (Ga App 1992). A list of 22 court cases holding that the use of a TASER is appropriate use of force and is not per se excessive force are found on the above Web sites. A model police for the TASER based on these court cases is at www.ecdlaw.info. This ought to be the home page on the desktop of the department’s use-of-force instructor.
Lowest Force Option
Tony Bleetman, PhD is the clinical director, Helicopter Emergency Medicine, West Midlands Ambulance Service, United Kingdom. The UK police have done more research on the TASER than anyone else in the world. Bleetman addressed all of the high-risk conditions resulting in an in-custody death. He made clear than any force action has a risk, and that the TASER is often the lowest of all the available force options.
The TASER should catch the attention of police departments that focus on the “lowest” use of force rather than on the broader “reasonable” use of force. He recommended that the TASER be placed on the force continuum above empty hand control but below the use of pepper spray. He also urged that the TASER use-of-force review include injuries that would have occurred if other force options had been used: K9, baton, beanbag, firearm.
Bleetman repeated that, 1) the TASER stops conflicts, 2) avoids higher uses of force and 3) has a lower injury rate for officer and suspect alike. His emphasis was the early use of the TASER can stop the predictable escalation of conflict, dehydration, elevated core temperature, Excited Delirium, death. People have died in custody of Excited Delirium long before the TASER, and at about the same rate as today. So early deployment of the TASER may reduce the on-set of Excited Delirium.
Greg Meyer is a recently retired captain with the Los Angeles Police Department and the one primarily responsible for the LAPD’s widespread adoption and deployment of the TASER. In 20 years of LAPD TASER training, which includes mandatory exposure, the academy has experienced no TASER-related training injuries.
Meyer emphasized “cuff under power” to reduce the number of activations and to reduce both subject and officer injuries. He also urged to take a few steps back before activation of the TASER to get the darts to spread out. He also reminded officers of the drive-stun option to make a three-point connection if the probes end up being too close.
Two national organizations have model policies for the TASER. The IACP policy, authored by Springfield, MO Police Major Steve Ijames, is very good. On the other hand, the PERF policy (www.policeforum.org) is not so good. It is too restrictive, inclusive enough in some force descriptions, too specific in the activation cycles and flat wrong in statements on increasing the risk of death by multiple activations.
These are just a sampling of the 18 presentations, all crammed into a non-stop, two-day seminar. The TASER tactical conference is one of the best uses of your training and travel budget. From patrol officer to shift supervisor to PIO to SWAT commander to chief, the TASER conference offers important, relevant training for all tasks of law enforcement. The TASER conference is actually a critically important use-of-force conference, force training conference and liability avoidance conference at least one officer from every police and sheriff’s department in the U.S. and Canada should attend!