Risk and Complianceby Chris Byrne
For the first time today, TASER international has acknowledged that the use of their electro-compliance device has a higher risk to the health of the restrainee than they have advertised
Taser: Don’t shoot stun gun at chest
First time company has suggested there is any risk from its stun guns
AP – updated 8:23 a.m. PT, Wed., Oct . 21, 2009
PHOENIX – Taser International is advising police agencies across the nation not to shoot its stun guns at a suspect’s chest.
The Arizona-based company says such action poses a risk — albeit extremely low — of an “adverse cardiac event.”
The advisory was issued in an Oct. 12 training bulletin. It marks the first time that Taser has suggested there is any risk of a cardiac arrest related to the use of its 50,000-volt stun guns, The Arizona Republic reported.
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Taser officials said Tuesday the bulletin does not state that Tasers can cause cardiac arrest. They said the advisory means only that law-enforcement agencies can avoid controversy if their officers aim at areas other than the chest.
Critics called it a stunning reversal for the company.
We have all of course seen or heard of such incidents as the intransigent elderly woman who was TASED a few months ago in Texas (and many other similar incidents involving the elderly or emotionally disturbed); and most famously of course, of Rodney King, who continued resisting arrest after multiple TASER hits (which is why the officers began beating him. What started as an attempt to physically restrain a violent and intoxicated offender, turned into an emotional free for all).
Less frequently, we hear of someone experiencing cardiac or respiratory arrest, seizures, or nervous system damage from the use of the TASER.
Civil liberties activists have claimed that TASERs have directly caused the death of at least 350 people this decade; and that unjustified use of the TASER device is rampant, with thousands of effective cases of police brutality every year.
I take those claims with a hefty grain of salt.
Unfortunately, it IS clear that there have been a not insignificant number of deaths, either directly or indirectly caused by TASER usage; and that the risks of TASER usage are in fact much higher than law enforcement agencies and individual officers have been trained, or led to believe.
Because of these risks, those same civil liberties activists have called for the TASER device to be banned.
For years, TASER international has utterly denied the possibility of any elevated risk of death or serious injury involved in the use of the TASER.
Today, for the first time, the company acknowledged those risks; but in response suggested something I believe is ridiculous, counterproductive, and may even be harmful. In order to avoid liability, they are advising law enforcement agencies to train their officers to avoid shooting restrainees in the chest…
This is patently ridiculous.
First, the TASER is most effective when shot into the chest. The TASER device works by disrupting neuromuscular co-ordination, and hits outside of center mass are far less effective at causing systemic disruption. Other areas simply do not have the concentrations of nerve and muscle junctions that allow for effective immobilization.
When targeting peripheral areas of the body, effective immobilization may be limited to the localized area of the hit, or to one side of the body. Even hits to the abdomen or pelvis are far less effective in immobilization, (especially on larger restrainees) though they are exceptionally painful.
It is entirely possible (though very difficult) to fight through a TASER hit to a peripheral area, whereas it is nearly impossible to do so with a chest hit (unless you are physically huge, or very high).
It is also standard tactical doctrine for all projectile weapons training to aim for center mass; and it’s damn near impossible to hit a limb in a stressful situation. You don’t want to train officers to shoot for other targets under stress, it will just cause more problems.
Even after the department training officers and lawyers dutifully pass on the message from TASER; officers will, RIGHTLY, ignore this warning.
If you’re going to restrict TASER usage to targeting peripheral areas of the body, you might as well ban their use entirely.
I believe banning TASERs would be a huge mistake, as would changing the targeting area for the device; but clearly something needs to change.
The problem with TASERs isn’t their risks; it’s their doctrine for use.
I’ve been a law enforcement trainer myself, and I’ve been through various less-lethal force training courses, including TASERs. I’ve been TASED several times, and have had several other electro-compliance devices demonstrated on me (to great effect).
Officers are trained to view TASERs as, and to use them as, a less harmful compliance option than direct physical contact; with less risk to both the officer, and the restrainee. The TASER is viewed as a less risky, and less harmful option in the continuum of force.
While the less risk to the officer part is true, the risk of great harm to the restrainee is very high. Much higher than that of chemical compliance techniques, and as high as PROPERLY EXECUTED physical restraint and compliance techniques
Improperly executed physical restraint and compliance techniques, unfortunately present nearly as high a risk of fatality as a shooting; and with much greater risk to the officer. Without extensive training, continuing practice, and exceptional strength and physical fitness; it is very difficult for officers to maintain proper physical restraint and compliance techniques. Even with proper technique, the risk to the officer remains much higher than non-contact restraint and compliance techniques.
It is these issues, which in fact prompted much of the development of less-lethal force technologies; including chemical restraints, and electro-compliance devices like the TASER.
So where does this leave us? Where does this leave law enforcement officers; who are simply looking for a way to effectively restrain subjects, with less risk to the officer, and the subject.
This improper perception of risk has created an environment; especially in smaller law enforcement organizations, with lower training budgets and more permissive attitudes towards the continuum of force; where TASER use is not considered serious.
In general, many officers would prefer to use the TASER than other means of enforcing physical compliance; because it presents the least risk to them, and the most compliant restrainee.
Combined this false perception of low risk, with a more permissive attitude, and the undoubted advantages to the officer; and it is understandable why in many jurisdictions it seems that taser usage is out of control, and suspects are being TASEd almost casually.
The use of the TASER should be understood to be (and officers should be trained to this effect) 1/2 step below the use of a firearm in the continuum of force. Officers should be trained in a more realistic assessment of the risks and dangers of the TASER (and other electro-compliance devices).
Additionally, TASER use in the line of duty, should be reviewed with the same diligence as the discharge of a firearm.
I don’t want to take the TASER away from officers, as it is a useful and excellent tool that in general DOES increase the safety of both the officer, and the restrainee.
What I want, is for officers, and agencies, to understand, and take the risks and impact of TASER usage more seriously.