By Barry Sherman
As we enter the 21st century era of policing, department after department is being equipped with probably the most important tool ever developed to reduce injury to officers and to those they are arresting. That tool is the “TASER.” Actually, TASER is a registered trademark for their brand of Electronic Control Device. However, TASER has risen to the ranks of Kleenex and Xerox, where brand names have become generic for the product.
When I entered police work in the early 1970s, not much of a variety of weapons were issued to officers to protect themselves. As a matter of fact, there were only two; a nightstick and a .357 magnum revolver. Officers would bring additional items to work such as blackjacks and other assorted impact weapons for protection. When it came time to subdue the belligerent drunk, the person high on drugs, the mentally ill individual or just that person who didn’t want to go to jail, it became a real challenge to remain uninjured and subdue the arrest with minimal injury. You jumped on the pile and rode the bull until you got the cuffs on. The aftermath was usually time spent in the emergency room getting the arrest stitched up or the officer being x-rayed for injuries sustained during the scuffle. The injuries to officers could and in some cases did lead to long term pain and suffering. Many officers never regained their levels of productivity and were assigned to light duty or retired on a disability. The tangible and intangible losses to the officer and the department were monumental.
Some advances were made during the 1980s and 1990s in giving officers additional training and tools to minimize injury to themselves and the arrested person. As we all know it depended on the pain tolerance of the person you were trying to get under control. Not so with the TASER. This tool gains involuntary compliance through neuromuscular incapacitation.
Unfortunately, the media has portrayed the TASER unfairly in some accounts of its use and sporadic deaths of suspects after it was deployed. The negative coverage along with organizations such as Amnesty International and the American Civil Liberties Union taking positions not favorable to the TASER have led to a bad rap for a good and effective tool. It doesn’t take a brain surgeon to know that many people who resist the police have high levels of drugs and/or alcohol in their system or other pre-existing conditions that can contribute to their death. Others show signs of excited delirium, a condition often exasperated by drug use or mental illness in which the heart races uncontrollably and then stops.
The following statistics (as of 10/20/06) supplied by TASER International is testimony to the success of its product based on use of force reports. Conservative estimates by the company indicate they receive only one of ten reports by law enforcement agencies deploying TASER technology.
- Estimated uses on 114,750 human subjects in actual law enforcement field deployments:
– 11,475 documented use reports in database
– Estimated only 1 in 10 reports submitted to the database (10 x 11,475 = 114,750)
- Over 109,000 human volunteer exposures Of 11,475 incidents entered into their database 11,201 indicated a “Level” of TASER device use with over 90% success rates throughout:
- “Probes deployed” in 6,831 incidents. 92.76%
- “Drive stun” in 2,571 incidents. 95.79%
- “Laser only” in 1,558 incidents. 98.13%
- “Spark demo” in 241 incidents. 97.51%
- Overall success rate in database: 94.37%
Equally impressive are the statistics of injuries to subjects:
11,475 total incidents reported as of 10/20/06
(Or not indicated)
(Puncture wounds from probes, abrasions)
(Abrasions, skinned knee, carpet burn, testicle shot, penis shot, cut to mouth, cuts from falling onto glass)
Departments who use the device have reported dramatic decreases in injuries to their officers. Here are several of the many who have reported:
Rate of Injury Decrease
Putnam Co. FL 86%
Cape Coral FL 83%
Orange Co. FL 80%
Cincinnati OH 70%
Phoenix AZ 67%
South Bend IN 66%
Another testimony to the use of the TASER is in the reduction of fatal force used by departments. In 2003 the Seattle Police Department did not have a single fatal shooting for the first time in 15 years. The police chief credited TASER as a major reason for that reduction. Also in 2003, the Phoenix Police Department reported that officer involved shootings dropped 54% from the previous year.
You also cannot ignore the accountability factor with this tool. The built-in computer system records the date and time of each trigger pull. New technology takes this one step further with the actual recording of video and audio of the incident. The TASER X Cam starts recording from the time the safety switch is turned off. When you look at these facts it is unbelievable that organizations that promote the rights of the individual oppose the use of the TASER. One can only wonder what they will oppose next.
Departments can assist in the collection of statistical data by submitting their actual field uses to TASER International. The information requested is generic, rief and can be sent quickly online at www.taser.com. Click on the “Law Enforcement” link and “File a Use Report” in the left column. This field information provides a critical feedback loop to the company to enhance product development and improve training as well as to determine areas not to “fix.”
Note: Information for this article was obtained from TASER International and Ron Dehne of Michigan TASER.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Barry Sherman retired from the Livonia Police Department as a Lieutenant after 28 years of service. He was a member of the POAM and is a past president of the Livonia Lieutenants and Sergeants Association. He earned his B.A. Degree from Madonna University and his M.A. in Criminal Justice from the University of Detroit. Barry taught part time at area colleges and universities while employed with Livonia. Upon his retirement he accepted a full time position with Madonna University where he is an Asst. Professor and Chairperson of the Criminal Justice Department. He is member of the Criminal Justice Advisory Boards for Livonia Public Schools and Henry Ford Community College. You can reach him at 734-432-5546 or email@example.com.