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Essential Elements in TASER Policy and Procedure
Each year, more and more police agencies have included the utilization of the TASERÔ into their departmental armories of weapons. Many agencies have also developed policies and procedures addressing a wide range of issues and applications.
Many of these policies and procedures, however, may be deficient in terms directional design and appropriate tactical applications. They may involve several prominent deficiencies by omission and commission that may hinder the effectiveness of the device and may jeopardize officer safety and citizen security.
The initial elements presented are a result of an exhaustive two-year study by the Ad Hoc Committee on Electronic Control Weapons under the direction of the Georgia Association of Chiefs of Police. This 17-member committee composed of law enforcement professionals, academic advisers, attorneys and physicians reviewed the 18 months of extensive work done by the PERF Center on Force and Accountability on the subject of Conducted Energy Devices and incorporated several of their suggestions.
Policy Is Needed
First, every agency should promulgate a comprehensive policy governing the use of electronic control weapons. The policy should provide specific information as to the placement of the device on an approved use-of-force continuum.
Second, departmental training for the officers using the device must be extensive and address the nature of the weapon, its capabilities, and the potential deployment effects. This training should be independent of the suggestions of the manufacture of the device and consistent with departmental rules and regulations.
And finally, each agency should require that a report be initiated each time the device is used and the nature of its deployment. Such information can then be used to establish patterns and trends indicating training needs and/or policy modifications necessary.
TASER as a Deadly Force Alternative
The TASER should never be identified or promoted as a deadly force device via policy or procedural design. It should not be used when deadly force is clearly called for. A simple axiom should be used in terms of realistic officer safety and security when addressing life-threatening confrontations: Lethal threats require lethal alternatives!
Many agencies have mistakenly sought the TASER as a substitute to deadly force for their officers and have identified its use in place of that of a lethal weapon. Numerous police executives have provided anecdotal, as well as actual illustrations, of the TASER being used by officers when placed in a lethal encounter.
The TASER may be considered an option, or an alternative use of force, in some scenarios that would have required lethal force without this option. In some cases, lethal force can be used, and a TASER could also be used. However, in other cases, the TASER is not the correct device when lethal force must be used.
In many cases, police executives have voiced their positions that the TASER is a substitute to deadly force, and therefore a positive investment in the provision of maximized citizen safety. However, the TASER was not designed, nor should its delivery be recognized or used as a deadly force weapon. Officers must be trained to deploy the weapon in those confrontational settings that involve incidents with threats not likely to cause death or great bodily harm. This device is not to be deployed as a substitute to lethal force.
By the same token, some agencies have defined the TASER as a “less-lethal” weapon. This too is absolutely wrong. The device is non-lethal. Lethality cannot and should not be delineated in any form or to any degree!
All too often, officers are mistakenly placed into deadly force confrontations in hopes that the degree of force can be minimized, thus avoiding public outcry and/or potential litigation. However, in this attempt to avoid complications, officer lives are placed at risk.
Placement on Use of Force Model
Like any tool or tactic for force utilization, this device must be placed upon an approved Use of Force Model. The state of Georgia and many other state and local law enforcement agencies have concluded that the Integrated Force Management Use of Force Model is the most comprehensive and adaptable training tool force for general departmental usage.
More than 85% of police agencies have placed the application of the TASER in the confrontational context of a Resistant (Active) Subject. By definition, such an individual has already indicated his physical non-compliance to the officer(s) present, presenting them with the potential for continued resistance, necessitating an appropriate application of force.
Continuing a further identification of the confrontational setting in terms of officer response, here the officers would use compliance techniques, inclusive of the TASER, chemical irritants, specific contact controls, etc., as a “balanced” force alternative to the subject’s degree of non-compliance.
Unless exigent circumstances exist, certain people, i.e. pregnant women, elderly subjects, children, and visibly frail individuals should be excluded from the application of the TASER in either mode.
Additional Reactivation of TASER
During certain confrontations, the initial application of a TASER can appear to be ineffective in its debilitation and/or controlling effort. Therefore, additional electrical cycles from the device by either wire delivery or via a “drive-stun” mode may be necessary.
Officers must be trained to accurately assess and specifically determine the number of re-applications that can be safely given in order to establish control, and clearly decide when it is necessary to eliminate the use of the device and select another force alternative in order to bring about a state of compliance.
Obviously, some number of applications exists that is appropriate during a particular confrontation, and some number of applications exists that would support the “objective reasonable” assessment of excessive force.
Each agency must define the appropriate threshold level unique to the encounter in order to better train, and then support, their involved officers. Again, proper training should include the recognition of the limitations of the TASER and being tactically prepared for the transitional steps toward other force options.
Control of the “Tased” Subject
For decades, law enforcement has been reluctant to establish a standard and effective methodology of control once a subject has been “Tased” by the device. Officers must be trained to initiate effective control holds directed to the subject’s hands in order to direct the individual into a kneeling and/or prone position for efficient handcuffing.
All too often the training on the device begins and ends with device nomenclature, operational principles, and deployment applications. Clearly deficient is what happens, or should happen once the subject has been “Tased.” In this case, set control tactics, and their supervised instruction must be made part of the training to achieve a “total picture” of control.
Remember, you are responsible for the subject’s safety following the application of the TASER, thus preventing the subject from such issues like the risks presented by traffic flow, falls, drowning potential, etc.
Propriety of Weapon Positioning
In order to prevent the improper or accident deployment of the firearm rather than the TASER, many agencies have required that officers carry the device in a reverse holster position on the officer’s non-service weapon side. Although this positioning has become the norm, it may be short sighted, if not dangerous.
Training with emphasis on decision-making not positioning should be the main component in the selection criteria. Quality training should never be replaced by secondary issues; i.e. positioning! One must only remember the horrific history of the cross-draw holster when it applied to weapon takeaways, negating the proper deployment in close quarters, and the safety issues surrounding range training exercises.
Agencies should provide their officers with front-draw holsters placed on the officer’s non-service weapon side. This unique placement would require the officer to draw the weapon with his “off” hand and fire it from the drawing hand or repositioning it into the primary hand for firing, if so desired.
Such placement would require a directed decision toward drawing the device, secure a better status of safety for groups of officers under normal range conditions rather than allowing the device to jeopardize the safety of officers standing shoulder to shoulder in a firing line, and standardized practical procedures in the drawing, directing, and firing of the device.
Since the utilization of the TASER upon a subject is a use of force, such activity needs to be noted on a departmental use of force report form. This reporting protocol should minimally include the nature of the subject’s actions prompting the utilization, the number of device activations, the subsequent monitoring of the “Tased” subject, etc.
Training for Medical Personnel
In order to achieve the most effective tactical application of the TASER, one element must include the provision of a comprehensive medical evaluation. Additionally, medical and emergency personnel must have a proper understanding of the device, its components, and its effects. It is hoped that the medical and emergency personnel will develop a standardized protocol for the proper handling of “Tased” subjects.
If the subject is “Tased” with control and containment established, tactical feasibility shall dictate if the subject be transported to a medical facility or if field examination of the subject by medical and emergency personnel is sufficient. These same trained personnel shall be responsible for the removal of TASER probes and any appropriate first-aid provisions. Remember, these applied probes have become, and should be treated as, a biohazard.
These elements and the suggestions provided were presented with one goal in mind—the successful implementation of the TASER device into law enforcement agencies. And once these ideas are implemented, they will serve to provide an enhanced status of safety and security for all officers and citizens.
Greg Connor is an associate professor (emeritus) at the University of Illinois Police Training Institute. For more information, including a complete protocol on electronic control weapons, he can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Published in Law and Order, Aug 2006
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